PRETORIA, The South African Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has confirmed that cases of bird flu have been detected on two commercial layer chicken farms in the provinces of Gauteng and Mpumalanga.

The two farms were immediately placed under quarantine by the State Veterinarian after the HPAI H5N8 virus was confirmed, the department said here Wednesday, adding that the necessary measures had been taken to contain and eliminate the disease as efficiently as possible on both farms.

Forward tracing was done and cull chicken depots were identified, which had received live cull chickens from one of the affected farms in the last 21 days. The records of these cull depots are being followed up to trace as many of these chickens as possible, the department said.

The department re-assured the public that the H5N8 virus does not affect humans. The Department of Health, through the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, has tested workers from the affected farms and no human cases have been detected.

The HPAI H5N8 viruses that have been isolated from the outbreaks are similar to the viruses isolated from Zimbabwe in June 2017 and from Egypt in 2016, which makes the likelihood of the involvement of wild birds high.

Chicken owners and farmers are encouraged to prevent contact of their chickens with wild birds as much as possible. “Increased surveillance in wild birds, commercial chickens and backyard chickens is continuing. Chicken owners, farmers and the public should remain vigilant and all cases of high mortality in chickens and other birds should be reported to the nearest State Veterinarian,” the department said.

The public is advised to avoid any gathering of chickens for shows, auctions and similar activities. However, should such activities continue, the organisers are advised to liaise with the State Veterinary Authorities and the auction houses must also be registered with the PDMA.”

The newly established Poultry Disease Management Agency (PDMA) system of registering people buying and selling live chickens made it possible to trace the culls. The registration process has progressed well, and a number of initial challenges were ironed out.

The department encouraged all role players in the poultry industry involved in the buying and selling of live chickens to comply with the registration and other requirements designed to allow the trade of live chickens to continue without compromising animal health.

The department also reported that the de-population of the two poultry sites affected in June had been completed. The carcasses, waste material, affected eggs and manure had been contained and would be dealt with to prevent the spread of the disease, as well as to prevent contamination of the environment.

Export of chickens and chicken products from registered HPAI-free compartments is continuing to countries that accept guarantees from such compartments. There is good co-operation from registered compartments to increase the testing frequency to monthly testing, the department said.

However, exports of raw meat, eggs and live birds from South Africa to some trade partners have been disrupted, as one of requirements is being free from HPAI, the department said. South Africa has not been able to provide certification in this regard since June 22, 2017.

The export of products, which have been processed to ensure the destruction of the virus, is also continuing, unless the trade partner has raised an objection.