South Africa poultry industry suffers under new avian flu strain

Outbreaks of the highly pathogenic H7N6 avian flu strain that began at the end of May have led to the loss of about a quarter of South Africa’s poultry, according to reports.

S0-called ‘layer farms’ are understood to have been hit hardest.

The country has been suffering under the effects of a third cycle of the highly pathogenic virus. 

According to the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH), the first outbreak began on 29 May in Mpumalanga province in the eastern part of the country. The outbreaks have subsequently spread to farms in four other provinces: Gauteng, Free State, Limpopo, and Northwest.

The latest statistics from the WOAH indicate that deaths from the latest outbreak in the country total 10,705.

The outbreak has led to a shortage of eggs, with several retailers alerting customers that shelves could be empty soon.

Earlier this month, Woolworths outlets in Cape Town and Johannesburg had the following sign on their egg shelves:

“We’re doing everything possible to protect our chickens. Under veterinary advice, our free-range chickens, including the hens that lay our eggs, are temporarily being kept indoors to protect them from Avian Flu. We remain committed to offering you free-range choices, and the birds will be allowed to return outdoors as soon as it is safe.”

The spread of the new strain in South Africa is a worrying development. Europe has borne the brunt of avian influenza, commonly called bird flu, in recent years, which has led to the culling of millions of birds in the past two years, affecting the supply of poultry meat and eggs.