Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Outbreaks in South Africa

 After months of numerous countries grappling with Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (“bird flu”) outbreaks, including North America, the European Union, the United Kingdom and South America, South Africa reported its first bird flu cases in commercial poultry in April this year. 

The state of poultry in SA
Image: Shutterstock

 These initial incidents were recorded in the Western Cape in commercial layers (table egg production), spreading to KwaZulu-Natal, then Mpumalanga and now Gauteng and Limpopo. The impact on commercial poultry is being felt across the poultry sector from commercial layers through to broiler breeders. 

 Of concern to the South African poultry sector is the prevalence of two different strains of highly pathogenic bird flu, namely H5N1, which the majority of countries around the world has recorded. However, South Africa has seen the emergence of a new strain identified as H7N6. This strain has categorised the outbreaks felt through parts of Mpumalanga and Gauteng, with the first cases reported from the Delmas region in early June 2023. 

Both the commercial layer and broiler sectors have been hard hit by the recent outbreaks, surpassing bird flu cases experienced in any year since the initial outbreaks in commercial poultry of 2017. Currently, the control measures for the disease involve the culling and safe disposal of infected livestock. This carries an enormous financial cost for the local poultry industry. 

 Many countries have started vaccination trials, with the hopes that vaccination will play an important role in controlling the disease. France, for instance, have started vaccinating commercial flocks of ducks. The domestic poultry industry is currently in discussion with the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) to explore the possible use of vaccines in its fight against the disease. The use of vaccines against the H5 and H7 strains of bird flu will (as with many other avian diseases that the global poultry industry vaccinates for) add an important tool to the local industry’s biosecurity programmes aimed at managing and controlling the disease. 

The enormous financial impact on producers through current disease control measure of culling is not sustainable, as South African producers are not receiving compensation from government. Many producers in countries around the world receive governmental assistance in managing and controlling outbreaks, including financial compensation for their losses. 

South African producers are extremely concerned about the latest outbreaks. Should the trend continue around the speed with which the disease is spreading, this could lead to shortages in the supply chain. 

SA Poultry Association

Visit the official COVID-19 government website to stay informed: sacoronavirus.co.za