Alan Winde, minister of Economic Opportunities, announced that no new cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) have been confirmed at poultry farms in the province since 31 October 2017. In December, there was a reoccurrence at a previously infected farm that was still under quarantine. HPAI was first detected in the Western Cape in August last year. The total number of cases for the country now stands at 107, of which 75 are in the Western Cape.

Laboratory tests have, however, confirmed the presence of the H5N8 virus in swift terns (coastal birds) found in Durbanville, Sea Point, between Bloubergstrand and Melkbosstrand, Kenilworth, and Stony Point. The sick terns show signs of weakness and cloudy eyes and later develop head tremors, lack of balance, walking in circles, seizures and death.

Other wild birds found to be infected in 2017 included guineafowls, laughing doves, rock pigeons, pied crows, sacred ibis, blue cranes, Egyptian geese, spotted eagle owls, peregrine falcons and a house sparrow.

Minister Winde said: “Our Veterinary Services team have notified Cape Nature, BirdLife and local seabird rehabilitation centres of this latest outbreak of HPAI among wild birds, for further dissemination to relevant stakeholders.

“Members of the public are urged to inform their local state vet office or Cape Nature office if they discover groups of dead  or sick birds. Members of the public should avoid handling sick birds, especially if they will be coming into contact with other birds or bird owners.” Click here to see a map of local state vet offices in the Western Cape.

No vaccine or treatment

There is currently no preventive vaccine or treatment for HPAI H5N8. Veterinary Services advises that there is also no benefit to be gained in attempting to control the virus in wild birds through culling or habitat destruction.

The H5N8 strain of the virus has so far shown no sign of being infectious to people. Constant monitoring of exposed people in South Africa has supported this. However, people can spread the disease via their hands, clothes and vehicles.

Minister Winde urged poultry owners to remain vigilant and to maintain strict biosecurity measures.

“The halting of new infections in our poultry industry is positive news, but we must remain extremely cautious due to infections among our wild bird population. Restocking of poultry farms continues in Gauteng, and our vets are working with local farmers to make sure their houses are clean, so they can start the restocking process.”

Poultry farms can be declared officially free of HPAI 42 days after the first effective disinfection. Once the property is declared HPAI free, the quarantine can be lifted. To date, quarantine has been lifted on one commercial broiler breeder farm.

Since culling began, food prices related to poultry, a key source of nutrition for residents, have been impacted. Louw Pienaar, economist at the Department of Agriculture, reported that the price of eggs in South Africa has risen by 16,9% when comparing November 2016 to November 2017. “The biggest price shock has been in the Western Cape, where the price of 1,5 dozen eggs increased from R38,42 to R42,66 between September and October of last year. A more detailed report from the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) on the economic impact of the outbreak is expected at the end of January 2018.” – Press release