African penguins succumb to avian flu in the Cape

19 February 2018 - 10:51 By Timeslive
File photo of African Penguins. The endangered birds have fallen victim to avian flu in the Western Cape.
File photo of African Penguins. The endangered birds have fallen victim to avian flu in the Western Cape.
Image: 123rf/ Sergei Uriadnikov

African penguins have succumbed to the highly pathogenic H5N8 avian flu along the coastline of the Western Cape.

The department of agriculture confirmed on Monday that seven cases from six different sites across the province had tested positive in penguins. Of the seven cases‚ one has survived.

Infected birds are being treated‚ as African penguins are an endangered species. Treatment protocols are similar to those for flu in humans. They include nutrition‚ hydration‚ vitamins and administration of anti-inflammatory drugs or antibiotics for secondary infections‚ if necessary.

The department said in a statement that no new cases of the disease had been reported in the commercial poultry sector since October.

Provincial economic opportunities minister Alan Winde said that the “management authorities of all major seabird colonies around the coastline are monitoring their zones closely. All necessary precautionary protocols to contain the spread of the disease have been implemented and extended surveillance and collaboration across sectors is assisting with further epidemiological evaluations.”

CapeNature CEO Razeena Omar said the organisation was working closely with the state vet and had put procedures in place to “monitor the virus and restrict the spread by humans between infected and non-infected areas”.

Affected birds show symptoms such as twitching and head tremors and may have difficulty breathing. Terns and other flying birds can lose their ability to sustain flight.

Avian influenza is a viral respiratory disease of birds that is primarily spread through direct contact between healthy and infected birds‚ or via indirect contact with contaminated equipment or other materials. The virus is present in the faeces of infected birds and in discharges from their nostrils‚ mouth and eyes.

The H5N8 strain has not been shown to infect humans.

Winde urged people to report sick birds to the nearest seabird rehabilitation centre. People were warned not to touch sick birds if they had pet birds at home or worked in the poultry or ostrich industry.