An avian influenza, or bird flu, outbreak in 2017 resulted in the culling and the loss of millions of rand to the South African poultry industry. Picture: EPA
Pretoria - An avian influenza, or bird flu, outbreak in 2017 resulted in the culling and the loss of millions of rand to the South African poultry industry.

As a result, the government is reviewing its diagnostic protocol to allow for the clear interpretation of results to make informed decisions on control measures and prevention of the spread of the disease, a workshop aimed at preventing further outbreaks heard yesterday.

The workshop was held at the Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute and attended by animal health experts from Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Director of Animal Health at the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Dr Mpho Maja said the challenge during the outbreak was the funding for compensation relating to the culling of healthy poultry to prevent the disease spreading.

Maja said funds were not readily available as a result and to this day measures such as insurance and industry-funding schemes were being investigated.

Another challenge was the fact that ostriches did not show signs of the disease, which required an intensive and active surveillance system to detect it early which was a high cost to government and the industry.

“The 2017 outbreak taught us to keep up with appropriate active and passive surveillance in wild birds and poultry, to step up biosecurity, especially of the commercial sector. And to keep stakeholders and trading partners well informed to build trust and prevent unnecessary trade restrictions,” she said.

Presentations were delivered by the World Organisation for Animal Health and the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Jeromy McKim, director in the US department, said animal diseases such as avian influenza did not stop at borders and it was thus essential that countries worked together.

“Zoonotic diseases like avian influenza are transmissible between animals and humans. I’m thankful that the SA Health Department was able to participate in this workshop alongside its colleagues in animal health.”

Olafur Valsson of the Organisation for Animal Health said bird flu was a highly contagious viral disease that affected several species of food-producing birds, pet birds and wild birds, and occasionally mammals, including humans.

Valsson said bird flu was a global health concern which needed the concerted global action of all role-players.

Pretoria News