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Zim on high alert for avian flu

Precious Manomano

Herald Reporter

Surveillance has been raised along Zimbabwean borders to curb the spread of a new strain of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) recently reported in South Africa that has led to the death of around 20 percent of its national chicken population with four million chickens destroyed and creating a shortage of eggs and poultry.

The outbreaks are due to a new strain of the virus H7N6, called HPAI, leading to the mass destruction of birds in an effort to prevent the virus spreading.

Zimbabwe last experienced an outbreak of HPAI in 2017 at a local farm where 800 000 birds were destroyed.

Avian Influenza is a highly contagious viral disease of chickens, turkeys, quails, guinea fowl, and wild birds.

It is a transboundary disease that can be spread via migratory wild birds and mechanical vectors, such as contaminated cages and clothing, and through the international trade in infected poultry and poultry products.

The disease can potentially affect humans through exposure to infected birds or handling of infected carcasses. There is no major trade of poultry and poultry products between South Africa and Zimbabwe, hence the most probable route of exposure will be through migratory birds and illegal trade of poultry products.

Department of Veterinary Services chief director Dr Josphat Nyika said the department was ready to respond to any outbreaks in the country, adding that border checks are critical to prevent any possible spread of the virus from South Africa.

“We have heightened surveillance for avian influenza in poultry, including wild birds in the country so vigilance during inspections at all border control ports for poultry and poultry products is needed. There are no reports of avian influenza in the country so far,’’ he said.

Dr Nyika also emphasised that there is need to raise awareness among all in the poultry industry value chain via all media platforms on the urgent need to strengthen their biosecurity measures.

Acting deputy director of Veterinary Field Services Dr Reverend Spargo urged poultry producers to keep their birds away from areas that are visited by wild birds and control movement of people and equipment in and out of poultry houses.

“You should avoid provision of water and food in a way that may attract wild birds; rather feed free-range birds undercover or inside a confined structure and maintain proper disinfection of the property, poultry houses and equipment,’’he said.

Poultry producers were also urged to avoid the introduction of birds of unknown disease status into their flocks and all illnesses and deaths of birds should be reported to nearest Government veterinarian offices.

Poultry programmes are important as they are set to increase incomes and alleviate poverty.

Rural households used to keep their road runners for subsistence in terms of meat and eggs to supplement their diet occasionally and rarely for sale. They now have to do it as a business to ensure their financial stability while also increasing small livestock in Zimbabwe.