Understandably people are concerned about their health in connection with the outbreak of bird flu in Mpumalanga Province, South Africa.
The bottom line – don’t eat any birds found dead, dying or sick.
Obviously this is not going to be the case in our urban areas where we buy meat off the shelf which has been tested and inspected at licensed abattoirs.
There are many subtypes of avian influenza viruses, but only some strains of five subtypes have been known to infect humans: H5N1, H7N3, H7N7, H7N9, and H9N2. The current virus strain in South Africa is H5N8 which is not a threat to humans
Most human cases of the avian flu are a result of either handling dead infected birds or from contact with infected fluids. The World Health organisation says; “From the information currently available, a large number of confirmed human cases of avian influenza acquired their infection during the home slaughtering and subsequent handling of diseased or dead birds prior to cooking. FAO and WHO emphasize that in the process of killing and preparing a live bird for food, slaughtering poses the greatest risk of passing the virus from infected or diseased birds to humans.”
“The likelihood of infected poultry entering an industrialized slaughtering and processing chain, and eventually being marketed and handled by a consumer or a restaurant worker, is considered to be very low,” FAO/WHO said. Good hygienic practices during preparation and cooking poultry at temperatures of 70°C or above will further contribute to the safety of cooked poultry meat.
If you are concerned about the meat then cook thoroughly. Thorough cooking of poultry meat will inactivate the virus. Either ensure that the poultry meat reaches 70°C at the centre of the product (“piping” hot) or that the meat is not pink in any part.
Infected birds may infect eggs in the first stages, thereafter they stop producing eggs. Proper cooking inactivates the virus present inside the eggs. Pasteurization used by industry for liquid egg products is also effective in inactivating the virus.
Eggs from areas with outbreaks in poultry should not be consumed raw or partially cooked (i.e., with runny yolk), FAO/WHO advise. To date, there is no epidemiological evidence to suggest that people have been infected with avian influenza by consumption of eggs or egg products.
The SA Government said in a press release that the current avian influenza virus strain – H5N8 – affecting South Africa is not a threat to humans.
This was confirmed by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) on Thursday following advice from the World Health Organisation and the World Organisation for Animal Health.
“The DAFF wishes to reiterate that the type of virus we are dealing with does not affect people, as has been confirmed by the World Health Organisation and the World Organisation for Animal Health.
“The meat that is on the shelves is safe to eat, as it has gone through a process of meat inspection and certified fit for human consumption,” Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana said at a media briefing on Thursday.
This was also confirmed by the Director of Animal Health at the DAFF, Mpho Maja, who said chicken meat on the shelves was safe to consume.
Maja said the meat from healthy poultry was safe to eat due to strict inspections at abattoirs. However, Maja warned people not to eat any birds found dead, dying or sick.
This follows a national ban on all chicken farmers selling live birds following the outbreak of highly pathogenic bird flu.
Two cases, one on a broiler breeder farm in Villiers and another in an egg laying farm in Standerton, have been reported since 22 June. Both these farms are in Mpumalanga province. Surveillance is being conducted around the affected areas.
“Our team of veterinarians has swiftly responded to this threat. We have placed the affected farms under quarantine and the affected birds have been euthanised and the eggs destroyed. Approximately 260 000 birds have been culled,” Minister Zokwana said.
He confirmed that no cases have been reported so far in the Free State or in any other province but authorities remain on high alert.
On 6 June 2017 South Africa suspended all trade in birds and chicken products from Zimbabwe following a report on an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in one of the commercial chicken flocks in Zimbabwe.
The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) Veterinary Services said it was notified of a bird flu outbreak on Friday, 2 June. The virus has been typed as H5N8.
“South Africa immediately suspended all trade in live birds and poultry, meat, table eggs and other unprocessed poultry products and communicated this to the Zimbabwean Chief Veterinary Officer.
“South Africa imports very little from Zimbabwe. All importers were immediately notified that their import permits were cancelled. Any permits, which have not been used, should please be returned to the department with immediate effect,” the department said in a statement.
DAFF has also heightened inspections of all consignments, including all private and public vehicles, at all the country’s ports of entry, especially in and out of Zimbabwe.
The Limpopo Veterinary Authorities are on high alert and have been asked to increase their surveillance, especially in backyard chickens.
The department urged communities to be extremely vigilant, especially in areas of Limpopo that border Zimbabwe, and report any unusual mortality of chickens or other birds to the State Veterinary Services immediately for samples to be collected.
“Keepers of chickens, geese and ducks, including backyard farmers, are encouraged to observe minimum biosecurity measures to prevent this disease in their birds, such as limiting exposure to wild birds by providing feed and water indoors or at least well underneath a low solid roof.
“Care should be taken to prevent chickens drinking from common water sources where wild birds congregate,” the department said.
The department encouraged commercial farmers to increase their biosecurity measures on farms, including limiting access to people who might have had contact with birds and chickens outside the farm.
“Clinical and serological surveillance should also be increased and any abnormal morbidity and mortalities must be immediately reported to State Veterinary Services.”
The department warned that South Africa has prohibited vaccination of chickens against Notifiable Avian Influenza and no vaccine against this disease is registered in the country.
“No farmer should allow their chickens to be vaccinated,” the department said.