September 19, 2023

South Africa: Agriculture, land reform and rural development following an outbreak of avian flu on a farm in Gauteng

The Ministry of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development would like to report an outbreak of Avian Influenza (AI) at a commercial farm in Ekurhuleni, Gauteng.

About 300 birds died from AI influenza at this commercial laying hen farm. Samples from this farm that were sent to the lab tested positive for AI strain H5. It must be said that this farm was also part of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N8 epidemic in 2017.

After confirmation that it was H5, the birds in the affected barn were immediately destroyed. Arrangements have been made for samples to be urgently tested at Onderstepoort Veterinary Research (OVR), to determine the pathotype (whether highly pathogenic (HPAI) or low pathogenic (LPAI) avian influenza) as well as to determine the type N of the virus. The results haven’t come back yet.

Gauteng veterinary authorities have placed the farm under quarantine and are busy investigating the outbreak. They research backwards and forwards to determine the extent of the outbreak and help safely dispose of dead chickens and disinfect the farm.

Poultry producers should be on the lookout for signs of illness that may indicate AI and report any suspicions to the nearest state veterinarian for immediate investigation. The following signs are commonly seen in birds infected with HPAI:

Calm and extreme depression;

Sudden drop in egg production, many of which are soft-shelled or shellless;

Acacia and crests become red and swollen;

swelling of the skin under the eyes;

Signs of coughing, sneezing and nervousness;


Haemorrhages (blood spots) on the hock;

A few deaths may occur over several days, followed by rapid disease spread and up to 100% death within 48 hours.

All poultry producers, as well as those who keep birds for hobby or zoo purposes, are encouraged to implement the following biosecurity measures:

Keep birds away from areas frequented by wild birds;

Control the access of people and equipment to poultry houses;

Avoid providing water and food in a way that might attract wild birds; Instead, feed free-ranging birds under cover or inside a confined structure;

Maintain adequate disinfection of property, barns and equipment;

Avoid introducing birds of unknown health status into your flock(s);

Report bird illnesses and deaths to your responsible state or private veterinarian;

Implement procedures for the safe disposal of manure and dead birds.

The DALRRD has also been informed of the mass mortality of wild birds at Stutterheim in the Eastern Cape. Chicken samples taken at the end of March 2021 from two villages in Stutterheim tested negative (disease not present) for Newcastle disease and avian influenza. Follow-up surveys are ongoing.