Highly contagious bird flu confirmed at the coast

Can be transmitted to humans
Otis Daniels_Finck
Swakopmund • [email protected]

The suspicious deaths of Cape cormorants along the coast between Walvis Bay and Swakopmund about two weeks ago is caused by a highly contagious bird flu identified as HPAI H5N1, which was confirmed officially by the state veterinary services on Thursday.

“HPAI H5N1 strain is being detected for the first time in the history of Namibia,” a joint statement by the executive directors of the ministries of health and agriculture, Ndiyakupi Nghituwamata and Ben Nangombe respectively, issued today (Thursday), read.

It has killed hundreds of birds, mostly Cape cormorants, but also pelicans and others seabirds over the last two weeks.

Suspicions are that this strain may have come to Namibia with migratory birds from South Africa, where a similar outbreak has decimated that country’s Cape cormorant population by about 20% (25 000 birds) late last year.

Birds started dying en masse, or began behaving strangely, which alerted people to contact the relevant authorities to investigate. Samples were submitted to the state laboratory, which resulted in a final confirmation as to the cause on Thursday.

The public, and especially poultry farmers, were warned of the outbreak, and that the flu can be transmitted to humans.

The threat to poultry farmers is that humans could transmit it to other birds, such as chickens, which could result in a mass cull of poultry to contain the disease, which can have serious economic repercussions.

Wild birds play a major role in the maintenance and spread of avian influenza viruses. Infected birds shed the virus in their saliva, nasal secretion and feces. Domesticated birds such a chickens and turkeys, and other birds, may become infected through direct contact with infected wild birds, other infected poultry or through contact with surfaces that have been contaminated with viruses.

Humans can be infected through the eyes, nose and mouth when handling and coming into close contact with infected birds or through the handling and consumption of their infected products.

There is no recorded human to human transmission of bird flu though, according to the statement.

The ministries stated that they are jointly conducting a disease outbreak investigation.

Poultry farmers and the general public should immediately report any suspicion of sick or dead domestic or wild birds along the entire Namibian coastline to the state vet. People are also cautioned not to handle any sick or dead birds, or consume their products.

The harvesting of guano from Erongo has been suspended until further notice, while the movement of domestic and wild birds from the coast in Erongo is prohibited in exception of the imports and in-transit consignments originating from other countries.

Poultry farmers are advised to apply measures to prevent the introduction of infection into their farms and keep their poultry away from areas frequented by wild birds.

People who become sick following the handling of birds or their products should report immediately to a health facility.

Erongo 24/7 also reached out to the Namibian Poultry Association and is still awaiting their response pertaining to the current situation.