Avian Influenza: Government remains on high alert

Elita Chikwati Senior Agriculture Reporter
Government is in the process of mounting a risk based survey of the wild bird population to establish possible primary source of the Avian Influenza, with an external international specialist support team expected in the country this week for backup services. This follows an Avian Influenza outbreak early this month, which left thousands of chickens at Irvine’s Private Limited’s white meat and egg sub sector under quarantine.

The highly pathogenic virus killed 7 000 chickens and the company had to de-populate by slaughtering an additional 142 000 birds to prevent the spread of the disease.

Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development’s Department of Livestock and Veterinary Services principal director Dr Unesu Ushewokunze-Obatolu on Sunday said the department was continuing on its emergency response.

“Plans are advanced to mount a risk based survey of the wild bird populations in search for a possible primary source of the outbreak,” she said.

“The veterinary authority continues on its emergency response by reinforcing the quarantine measures, monitoring the situation through intensified surveillance and communication with the public.”

Dr Ushewokunze-Obatolu said the emergency response would continue until there was satisfaction that the Avian Influenza virus could no longer be picked up by birds, in line with provisions of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) Terrestrial Code.

Consideration will then be made to recommend a fresh re-stocking.

“A lot depends on the rigour and extent of the responses by veterinary services and the industry, in convincing neighbouring countries and trade partners,” said Dr Ushewokunze-Obatolu.

“No outbreak outside the three points within the Irvine’s poultry establishment has been detected as yet. Still there are no human infections associated with this outbreak to date. The public and producers of poultry still need to assist with vigilance, reporting any unusual observations in wild and domestic birds to Veterinary Services as soon as they are made.”

Dr Ushewokunze-Obatolu advised poultry producers to adhere to stringent bio-security management plans and measures and to desist from moving sick or dying birds.

The outbreak of avian influenza involved the serotype H5 N8 of the Avian Influenza virus, which had been spreading in a second wave around the world since 2010.

The virus has been re-introduced to Europe from Asia, where it remained in continuous circulation and was detected in Uganda, among other countries in Africa, earlier this year.

Influenza viruses are highly contagious and, therefore, spread very quickly in susceptible populations. The viruses occur naturally in wild water birds, but the they change dynamically and highly virulent strains can occur from time to time, causing major human and animal illness and death.

Unlike other serotypes which have caused concern in past years, H5 N8 wherever it has occurred recently, has not shown any risk to humans. Symptoms of avian influenza include quick illness and sudden deaths of the chickens.