1. What is Avian Influenza? How is it spread? What species are affected?
Avian Influenza (HPAI) is a highly contagious viral disease of food producing birds chickens, turkey, quails, and guinea fowls including pet and wild birds. The disease is spread through direct contact (respiratory discharges and faeces) between susceptible and infected bird species.
Avian Influenza can also be spread indirectly through contaminated feed, equipment, poultry manure clothing and footwear. Vehicles can also spread the disease from one farm to the other.
2. How should the outbreak of Avian influenza (HPAI), a lethal chicken virus which has been reported, for the second time, at one of the farms belonging to the country’s largest poultry producer, Irvine’s be of concern to all of us?
The second wave of reports about events at Lanark farm cannot be said to constitute a fresh outbreak. It is just a continuation of the same. Since its detection mid-May, Lanark Farm remains an infected property until the control measures are relaxed and quarantine lifted. Nothing has therefore changed.
Normally, controls are relaxed at least 3 months after the last depopulation and sanitary treatment of the premises, with verifiable evidence that the virus is no longer in circulation. A fresh biosecurity plan would also be required showing what measures would be put in place to assure continuous bio-exclusion of the virus.
Vaccines for use against HPAI for use in poultry are not approved for use in Zimbabwe and therefore are not allowed.
3. What effects does HPAI have on large-scale poultry breeders and small-scale chicken growers and what should they do?
As a high impact disease, HPAI kills up to 90% or more of affected flocks and spreads fast from bird to bird. Poultry producers large and small need to be very careful about how they manage their poultry businesses by excluding HPAI risk. This is normal management responsibility. The virus primarily comes from wild water birds in the environment. Wild water birds encounter migratory birds as they migrate north and south seasonally.
Avian influenza has been circulating continuously on the Asian and Far East subcontinents since about 10 years ago. It is not surprising how the viruses have been reported in Africa. The only viable escape open to us as a country is that poultry producers close all opportunities for exposure of domesticated birds by implementing strict biosecurity. The following are some of the biosecurity measures applicable on-farm:
Keeping domestic poultry away from areas frequented by wild fowls such as near water bodies or vleis.
Accommodating poultry in bird-proof housing
Desisting from keeping on the premises elements, which may attract wild birds including poultry feed placed outside buildings and maintaining trees and bushes on which wild birds can perch.
Maintaining strict control over access to flocks by vehicles, people and equipment.
Ensuring sanitation of property, poultry houses and equipment.
Avoiding introduction of birds of unknown disease status into the flock
Reporting any bird illnesses and deaths to the Veterinary Services
Ensuring appropriate sanitary disposal of manure, litter, feathers and dead poultry
4. What are the features of HPAI?
The HPAI viruses are many and can keep changing. Not all of them necessarily lead to human disease and some of them do not lead to animal disease either. Only proper investigation and confirmation can keep us properly advised. The communication efforts have tried to limit the amount of confusion and misinformation that can arise because of lack of complete understanding by the public. The Veterinary Authority’s responsibility at this point is that the public is correctly informed. Wherever the H5 N8 has occurred so far, both in Europe and Africa, it has not shown to be of public health importance.
5. How is the HPAI information disseminated by the Government, obtained?
Fake news are an unfortunate development as they only lead to diversion of scarce resources to futile exercises. All information so far availed by the Veterinary Authority on the current outbreak are all that there is. Veterinary services have a responsibility to run a continuously on-going exercise of investigating reports of animal disease with the aim of confirming or ruling out high impact animal and zoonotic (those with potential to cause human disease) diseases.
It also conducts regular structured surveys on animal and bird populations to provide scientific evidence of the presence, absence and distribution patterns of these diseases. These efforts are intensified during outbreaks through implementation of emergency preparedness plans. The emergency preparedness plan for HPAI has been invoked jointly with the Ministry of Health and Child Care who are in parallel also monitoring the human disease aspects.
6. What is the importance of the environmental connection in HPAI?
Diseases with an environmental link, like HPAI challenge the usual disease control measures as it is not predictable where they will occur. It is not practical to destroy wild birds. Effective control is only achievable through “compartmentalised management”. The answer is in improved management.
7. How are the animal and public health measures being implemented?
Both the Division of Veterinary Services and the Department of Epidemiology and Disease control are available to provide correct responses to any queries.
8. Can we continue to buy and eat poultry meat, eggs and other products?
When HPAI occurs, its effects will be very difficult to delay or hide. The public are warned not to eat birds, which have died of natural causes, or which have been killed in disease control campaigns, as a normal public health measure. Good poultry meat should be subjected to veterinary health certification before slaughter and after slaughter for suitability for human consumption.
Good producers employ sound husbandry practices involving strict biosecurity measures. These services are normal food control measures provided by Central or local government authorities for public safety.
9. Is it safe to sell or transfer sick birds before they die?
Movement of birds which are obviously ill or dead and of other products such as manure, feathers or litter, can only spread the disease to others who may not yet be affected.
It should also be noted that HPAI is not the only disease of concern among producers. Biosecurity benefits the producer by protecting domesticated birds from a range of poultry diseases and is always a good measure in the management of flock health and preventive public health.
10. How can the public expect to be kept abreast of activities by Government institutions?
The Government plays a crucial and leading role in educating stakeholders and the public on how it is dealing with the problems created by the avian flu virus. This happens through use of public media, an eco-farmer toll free hotline for Econet line users 144 operating 0800 to 1300 Mondays to Fridays, and through our normal extension and advisory services by the Livestock Production and Development and Veterinary Services stations country-wide
Other details can be obtained from the website of the Department of Livestock and Veterinary Services www.dlvs.gov.zw. Farmers are urged to contact their nearest veterinary office once they discover that their birds are exhibiting any form of illness .
11. Is HPAI harmful to human health? How widespread is it? How does it is spread? Is buying live chickens from roadside vendors risky? Is chicken meat sold through fast-food outlets safe?
Some types of avian influenza eg H7N9 and H5N1 have been known to cause human illness. The current H5N8 has not been associated with human illness. Presently this outbreak in Zimbabwe has only been confirmed at Irvine’s outside Harare south where it has occurred since mid-May 2017. It can spread from source through bird excretions and secretions, contaminated manure, feathers, equipment machinery, vehicles and personnel.
Buying chickens at roadsides can be risky if the birds have already been infected. Infected birds will look sick or could even die and caution isadvised.
All reputable food outlets selling poultry products have legal obligations to implement food safety measures involving sourcing inputs strictly from sources implementing Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points preventive measures. This would naturally prevent them from using material from suspect sources. All such outlets are regulated by the Ministry of Health and Child Care, while Veterinary Services regulates biosecurity during poultry production and slaughter processes.
Food business operators are expected to succeed in business by virtue of their compliance to laws and standards with commitment to highest levels of ethical conduct.
12. What is the expected impact of HPAI and measures to contain it?
As a high impact viral disease causing high mortality in affected poultry, economic consequences are naturally foreseen. Containment measures involving quarantine shut down also disrupt commerce. Both these affect product supplies on the market. Many poultry growers of different sizes and production types had taken advantage of the ease of entry into production for income earning. This has been sustaining thousands of citizens and contract poultry growers countrywide through broiler and poultry chick supplies. The small but growing export business to neighbouring countries has also died.
Hopefully, current and prospective poultry producers will heed advice being given by the Veterinary services on how to limit the risk by employing sound management practices above all.
The main containment measures applied are
Complete depopulation of selected sites with sanitary disposal of affected flocks and
Re-enforced import control
Puarantine and movement control;
Intensive surveillance of poultry flocks including trace backs and trace forward of all transferred growing flocks;
Virus characterisation and typing
Building of public awareness;
Epidemiological investigation of all other poultry flocks in the country and wild birds
For further enquires please feel free to get in touch on the following contact details