The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) said on Friday that it was dealing with the H5N8 strain of the avian influenza (bird flu) that has been detected in several seabird species, including Swift Terns, African Penguins and Cape Gannets on the country’s coastline.
To manage further spread of the avian influenza, the DEA had ordered that all research activities involving the handling of seabirds at various rehabilitation centres, captive institutions and known breeding locations be halted.
Although this strain of bird flu has not been found to affect people, as was confirmed through testing of people in contact with infected chickens during the 2017 outbreak in the poultry industry, bird flu viruses, in rare cases, can cause infections in humans, the DEA said.
“Thus, strict biosecurity measures should be enforced and precautions should be taken when handling affected seabirds.”
Wild birds are carriers of the disease and are able to carry it through flyways. In seabirds, the disease is spread through direct contact between healthy and affected birds. Most seabird species live in colonies, which ups their risk for contracting the disease.
The DEA will exercise even stricter precautions and stringent biosecurity measures during the preparation of the birds’ voyage (seasonal migration) to Marion Island in April.