Govt on high alert as deadly poultry virus looms

THE Department of Veterinary Services (DVS) has urged farmers to be on high alert for outbreaks of the H5 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) following reports that the contagious disease was detected in European countries over the past week.

BY MTHANDAZO NYONI

The deadly H5 HPAI viruses, first detected in China in 1996, occur naturally among wild aquatic birds and can infect domestic animals.

Reports say a major risk is that this avian influenza virus can easily be transmitted among human beings.

Its spread poses serious threats to the poultry industry, wild birds ecology and human health.

In a communication sent via the Livestock and Meat Advisory Council to various stakeholders, DVS principal director Josephat Nyika encouraged farmers to strengthen biosecurity.

“Let us all be ready, activate our early warning systems, be on high alert. Advise your constituencies of the impending danger and to strengthen their biosecurity. Let us all be on high alert. Let us activate our emergency preparedness and response plan,” he said.

The DVS is currently establishing a taskforce that will include the private sector to review and update the Zimbabwe HPAI preparedness and response plan.

“In the interim, please be on high alert and report any abnormal deaths,” it said.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said farmers should put in place enhanced measures for prevention, early detection and diagnosis, and for outbreak response.

“Given the extent of infection in wild birds in Europe, the Middle East, the Russian Federation, and Kazakhstan, the risk of disease introduction into other countries along wild bird migratory paths is regarded as high,” FAO said.

“Moreover, it is likely that the virus has already arrived in parts of West and North Africa, but remain undetected so far.”

It urged countries in Africa to increase surveillance efforts in areas identified to be at high risk by immediately testing sick or dead domestic poultry as well as wild birds for the presence of HPAI virus.

“Limit direct and indirect contact between domestic poultry, including ducks and wild birds (keep poultry indoors, use fences or nets to reduce contact between domestic poultry and wild birds); pay particular attention to sources of poultry drinking water to ensure it cannot be contaminated or it is treated appropriately before use,” FAO said.

“Raise awareness among poultry keepers, the general population, marketers, hunters and any other relevant stakeholder about HPAI, precautionary measures as well as reporting and collection mechanisms for sick or dead birds.”

Countries were also urged to implement biosecurity measures along the value chain, including farms, live bird markets, slaughter points among others to limit further spread of the disease.

On infected farms, FAO said countries should conduct appropriate cleaning and disinfection and take action on carcasses, slurry and faecal waste to ensure they do not pose a risk for further transmission and spread of the virus.

“Upon detection of outbreaks timely, alert neighbouring countries as well as international organisations, including the World Organisation for Animal Health. Share genetic sequences, studies on antigenic characterisation and virus isolates with the scientific community for further analysis and research,” FAO added.

Zimbabwe was in May and July 2017 hit by two outbreaks of the highly pathogenic bird flu at Lanark Farm, which is owned by the biggest chicken breeder in the country, Irvine’s — about 25km south of Harare.

As a result, the farm was quarantined under veterinary supervision following complete depopulation of affected poultry sites by June 1 2017. Altogether, 180 000 broiler parent stock in the affected sites were destroyed.

The second outbreak occurred on July 24 at another site on a farm housing 83 000 layer birds and these were also culled.

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