CAPE TOWN, The Economic Opportunities Department of South Africa’s Western cape Province says that while there is no new case of avian flu confirmed since Oct 31, last year, another strain of the virus, the H5N8, has cropped up.

No new case of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) has been confirmed at previously uninfected poultry farms in the province since 31 October 2017. In December, there was a recurrence at a previously infected farm, which was still under quarantine, said the Member of the Executive Council (MEC) in the province for Economic Opportunities, Alan Winde.

Despite progress in the fight against avian flu, the department said laboratory tests had, however, confirmed the presence of the H5N8 virus in swift terns found in Durbanville, Seapoint, 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. 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, said Winde.

Other wild birds found to be infected in 2017 included guinea fowl, laughing doves, rock pigeon, pied crows, sacred ibis, blue crane, Egyptian goose, spotted eagle owl, peregrine falcons and a house sparrow.

Unfortunately, there is currently no preventive vaccine or treatment for HPAI H5N8 and the Veterinary Services Department has advised that there is no benefit to be gained in attempting to control the virus in wild birds through culling or habitat destruction.

However, 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, said the department.

Winde urged poultry owners to remain vigilant and to maintain strict bio-security measures. The halting of new infections in our poultry industry is positive news but we must remain extremely cautious due to infections amongst our wild bird population. Restocking of poultry farms continues in Gauteng (Province), 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.

HPAI was first detected in the Western Cape in August last year. The total number of cases for the country now stands at 107, with 75 in the Western Cape.