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Govt considering vaccination to stop spread of bird flu

Aug 30 2017 17:43
Liesl Peyper

Cape Town – The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) is considering the possibility of vaccination in an attempt to stop the spread of Avian flu.

Senzeni Zokwana, Minister of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries, said during a media briefing on Wednesday that vaccination is not a simple discussion that can be taken lightly.

“It is a decision that should be based on scientific research for the long-term benefit of the sector and the country. But we are considering it, as the impact is wide.”

A task team is busy considering vaccination as an option and the DAFF will give its verdict on the matter at the end of September.

Zokwana previously said although there had been calls to permit vaccination against the bird flu strain, it would not be in the best interests of South Africa and poultry producers, as vaccination will affect surveillance efforts and the country's export certification.

Altogether 24 outbreaks of the H5N8 strain of Avian flu have been detected in South Africa to date, Zokwana said.

Director of Animal Health at the department, Dr Mpho Maja however pointed out that very few countries around the globe had successfully stopped the spread of the virus through vaccination. “We are looking at the failures and successes in our decision-making process,” she said.

Localised outbreaks of the virus have been reported in the Highveld of Mpumalanga, Gauteng, and recently also in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), the North West and the Western Cape.

Ten of the outbreaks were in the area of commercial chickens, three in ostrich, three in backyard chickens and eight in wild birds and birds kept as a hobby.

Since January this year, H5N8 has been reported in forty seven countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

Zokwana emphasised that no human cases have been reported as yet.

“The World Organisation for Animal Health and World Health Organisation have both confirmed that the specific strain does not affect human beings,” he said.

Late in June this year, the DAFF suspended the sale of live chickens in South Africa following the outbreak of the highly pathogenic strain.

The blanket ban, Zokwana said at the time, would be in place until South African veterinarians can verify that the country’s chickens are free from the highly pathogenic Avian Influenza.

Agmat Brinkhuis, a board member of the South African Poultry Association (SAPA) who was also present at the media briefing said the association was not in a position yet to make known the financial repercussions of the outbreak.

He pointed out though that poultry company Astral Foods said in a media report that the outbreak and the resultant ban on chicken sales have cost the industry approximately R50m.

Zokwana said the government and the poultry industry are collaborating on ways to stem the outbreak, including following strict biosecurity measures; keeping poultry away from wetlands and areas frequented by wild birds; to not provide an abundance of food on properties that may attract wild birds; control people access and equipment to poultry houses; maintain sanitation of poultry houses and equipment; and dispose of manure and dead poultry in a safe way. 

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daff  |  senzeni zokwana

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