Picture: AFP

Cape Town - The Table Mountain National Park has confirmed there is an outbreak of avian flu (bird flu) at the Boulders penguin colony in Simons Town. 

"Table Mountain management would like to alert the public that several cases of bird flu in the penguin colony at Boulders have been confirmed by state veterinary services," TMNP spokesperson Merle Collins said. 

"It is reiterated that this virus is a very low risk to humans, but is a real threat to domestic poultry. This strain of avian influenza virus (H5N8 strain) has been detected in a range of wild seabirds e.g. swift, sandwich and common terns, African penguins and gannets.

"The park is monitoring the situation closely and has now implemented the following precautions:
* With the exception of visitors on Boulders Beach boardwalk, nobody may access the main breeding colony.
* In instances where staff need to go off boardwalks to collect injured birds or hats, camera lens, caps etc dropped by visitors they will limit their access to essential work and then sterilise their boots afterwards - gum boots have been issued and are easier to clean than the normal boot.
* Monitoring routes used for moult/nest counts have been reviewed to ensure that staff and Penguin monitors do not walk through the main breeding colony.

Western Cape Veterinary Services, CapeNature, SANParks, the national Department of Environmental Affairs, City of Cape Town, SANCCOB and other seabird rehabilitation centres and private veterinarians are working in close cooperation to monitor the situation and perform further testing.

Collins said the Western Cape was the most affected area. 

"The virus is spread from bird to bird, by contaminated bird faeces and other body excretions, and by handling sick birds. Even though the virus is unlikely to infect humans, precautions should nevertheless be taken. Gloves, shoes, clothes, and other protective gear should be worn if handling birds.

"Any equipment including vehicles and protective clothing that could possibly be contaminated should be sterilised.

"While the virus is highly pathogenic to chickens and other poultry, the impact on wild seabirds is not that well understood (so far one tern and two penguins from Boulders have come back positive for H5N8). Closing the colony to visitors is not justified at this stage."

Tips for visitors
* Visitors must stay on designated board walks
* Visitors should change shoes and clothes if visiting other seabird colonies or poultry farms to prevent contamination from one site to another.

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