The strain was identified on a commercial chicken farm in Mpumalanga and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) said 243,000 birds could be affected. So far, 25,000 have either died or been culled.
South Africa’s Democratic Alliance (DA) party said the country had never before had an outbreak of AI, although this could not be verified at the time of writing by the OIE.
The DA said it would write to the chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Machwene Semenya, to press her to call agriculture minister Senzeni Zokwana to brief government on plans to contain AI.
Exports likely to be hit
In a statement, the DA said: “Given the possible major implications for the poultry industry, including the ostrich industry, Parliament must be briefed urgently on what plans the [Agriculture] Department has in place to contain the outbreak, as well as just how far the flu has spread.
“Farmers stand to lose their poultry and this will negatively affect the country’s chicken exports – the last thing the South African agricultural sector needs is to have its exports seen as undesirable and, worst of all, banned.”
The OIE said the source of the outbreak is unknown at this stage. Surveillance and quarantine measures have been applied by South Africa, which is not vaccinating any of the affected animals. All birds believed to be infected with AI will be culled.
Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the US were hit with a string of H5N8 AI outbreaks in late 2016 and early 2017 that lead to the culling of hundreds of thousands of chickens.