PRETORIA– The Department of Rural, Environment and Agricultural Development has set up a dedicated team to deal with the bird flu outbreak in South Africa’s North West Province.

The department has confirmed that Madibeng and Maquassi Hills have been hit by an outbreak of High Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), commonly known as bird flu.

One of the outbreaks in Madibeng involved a commercial flock, where quails were hatched, raised and slaughtered on the farm. The second involved wild ducks that were kept domestically as pets. The two outbreaks took place less than 10 kilometres from each other. The third outbreak was detected in a semi-commercial farm in Maquassi Hills.

A dedicated team from the department has been set aside to deal with the infected households to avoid spreading of the disease. The teams will continue to take samples randomly from remaining birds in instances where the birds were not totally culled,” the department said Snday.

A different team of officials has been deployed to collect information from surrounding farms within a 3km radius from the index farms. This was done to assess the extent of the spread to neighbouring farms.”

The farms and plots affected have been put under quarantine.

The owners have been advised on the bio-security measures that were to be taken to prevent spreading of the virus to neighbouring houses by humans and also by faeces of affected birds. They have also been advised to secure bird enclosures with bird nets to prevent wild birds from entering them, said the department.

Private veterinarians have been requested to assist farmers with bio-security measures while the community at large is requested to report any increased mortality of birds to the nearest state veterinary office. Wild birds are often attracted to domestic cages by available left-over food. Farmers have been advised to remove feed when it is not finished.

Avian influenza is a viral disease of poultry which affects both domestic and wild birds. Wild birds are more resistant to the disease and tend to harbour it without showing any adverse clinical signs. However, in situations of excessive stress, the animals’ immune system becomes compromised and it may start showing clinical signs or shreds the virus. Domesticated poultry is highly susceptible to the virus, which can result in mortalities.

The primary source of infection in domesticated flock is contact with wild birds. It spreads within a farm through carriers like utensils, workers and their clothes and contaminated litter.