October 5, 2023

Western Cape Urges Vigilance to Safeguard Poultry Industry from Avian Influenza Threat

Following the recent detection of the H7 high pathogenicity avian influenza (HPAI) in the Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Free State and Limpopo provinces, Western Cape poultry owners are encouraged to be proactive in the prevention of the spread of HPAI to the Western Cape.

At the same time, Western Cape Minister of Agriculture, Dr Ivan Meyer, warns that the H5N1 HPAI virus that caused seven outbreaks in the Western Cape from April to June 2023, is still a threat from wild birds.

Minister Meyer: “While no cases have been reported from poultry farms in the Western Cape since June 2023, we must remain alert. Biosecurity is the cornerstone of disease prevention and farmers, and poultry producers should continue to be vigilant in their biosecurity measures to prevent potential virus introduction from wild birds or their faeces.”

Dr Laura Roberts, State Veterinarian: Epidemiology with the Western Cape Department of Agriculture, said that in the seven outbreaks, 1 569 702 birds had been exposed to the virus adding that 1 398 757 were culled.

Dr Roberts said, “In the past three months the Western Cape hasn’t experienced any further outbreaks in the commercial poultry industry. Five of the outbreaks reported in the period between April and June were resolved. Whilst under quarantine, the farms had been depopulated, cleaned and disinfected twice with the State Veterinarian’s inspection. The quarantine was lifted, and the outbreaks were reported as resolved and disclosed to the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) and the World Organisation of Animal Health (WOHA) respectively.”

“Quarantine of the sixth farm has been lifted and the final report submitted to DALRRD. On the final farm, all houses have been cleaned and disinfected and after the second round of cleaning and inspection, the State Veterinarian will recommend the lifting of quarantine and submission of the final and closing report to WOHA”, continued Dr Roberts.

According to Western Cape agricultural economists, poultry is the largest industry in the agricultural sector of South Africa and contributes significantly to the agricultural economy of the country.

The South African Poultry Association estimates the broiler industry’s gross value (GVA) increased to R59 billion in 2022 (from R47 billion in 2019), while the gross value of the layer industry grew from R10.6 billion in 2019, to R12.6 billion by the end of 2022.

Minister Meyer remarked on the importance of the poultry industry in creating and providing direct and indirect jobs to the South African economy. Minister Meyer commented, “In 2022, the poultry industry created an estimated number of over 52,030 direct jobs. The national employment estimates the job distribution in the broiler industry in 2020 were: hatchery and rearing industry employed 16 289 people; the processing sector employed 31 005 people; and the broiler distribution industry employed 6 831 people.”

Minister Meyer added, “Passive surveillance entails the farmer, private veterinarian or animal health officials reporting any abnormalities experienced in a poultry farming enterprise, which include but are not limited to clinical signs indicative of avian influenza, abnormal increase in mortalities (deaths), and abnormal decrease in egg production.”

“Active surveillance includes a random sampling of all poultry establishments including backyard poultry and commercial poultry biannually. Within commercial poultry farming, there are high biosecurity establishments which are regarded as avian influenza free, and these are sampled for avian influenza monthly”, commented Minister Meyer.

Dr Roberts said that there were general recommendations to prevent transmission of the disease between farms, these include:

  • Discouraging interprovincial movement of birds and advising farmers to avoid these movements until avian influenza outbreaks are under control;
  • Ensuring that you only bring healthy poultry onto your property;
  • Keeping new birds completely separate for two weeks and only mixing with your other birds if they remain healthy;
  • Not allowing anyone onto your property who has had contact with poultry in the previous 2 days;
  • Not visiting poultry owned by others, cleaning and disinfecting vehicles upon entering and exiting properties of mud;
  • Using footbaths to disinfect footwear when entering and leaving a poultry house; and
  • Keeping poultry away from wild birds and their body fluids.”

Although the risk of avian influenza to humans remains low, the Western Cape Department of Agriculture advised that the public avoid touching dead birds.

Minister Meyer said, “Poultry products from grocery stores are safe for human consumption. We do, however, advise caution when handling or slaughtering potentially infected poultry – gloves, a mask and eye protection should be worn. “It is also very important to report sick or dead birds – both wild birds and poultry – to local authorities (veterinary services, public health officials, community leaders etc.).”

Details of local state veterinarians can be found at: https://rb.gy/37ir5

To learn more about Avian Influenza, visit the Western Cape Department of Agriculture’s website: https://rb.gy/76ine