Avian flu outbreak contained: Irvine’s

HARARE – One of the country’s leading poultry breeding companies, Irvine’s Zimbabwe (Irvine’s), says it has contained the highly-pathogenic H5N8 bird flu virus that broke out at its farm almost a fortnight ago.

Avian flu is a virus that occurs naturally among wild aquatic birds and affects domestic poultry and other birds and animals.

The company’s senior veterinarian, Moses Nyanzunda, said that no new cases of high poultry mortality disease has been recorded at Irvine’s premises since June 5, 2017 when 140 000 birds were culled following an outbreak of avian influenza at its premises which killed 7 000 others.

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“We are still trying to establish the source of the virus, believed to be wild water birds in conjunction with the Department of Veterinary Services and we are happy to report that we have not had an incident of dead birds at our farms for the past few weeks,” he said during a tour of Irvine’s last week.

In an effort to prevent the spread of the virus, government quarantined the affected site and is on high alert to ensure that the avian flu does not spread to small-scale chicken producers –— where it might become difficult to control.

“It is important that farmers understand that the risk of infection lies with exposure of their chickens to wild birds that may carry the virus and not with purchasing day-old chicks,” the Irvine’s official said.

On its part, the poultry producer said it has enhanced its biosecurity systems, including employing the use of appropriate personal protective equipment and careful attention to hand hygiene on its premises to contain the outbreak.

“We operate a comprehensive biosecurity programme, which has been developed and refined over many years to ensure the highest possible status for chickens.

“This programme was developed along HACCP principles with full risk assessments, corrective actions and constant verification to ensure the programme is working effectively,” Nyanzunda said.

Agriculture deputy minister, Paddy Zhanda, said he was confident that the country would be declared free of the bird flu soon.

“The disease is not caused by either importation of bird but it is a virus that can even come through air particularly through migrating birds from affected countries in Europe.

“We have other birds in the surrounding vicinity that can cause that and we are optimistic that measures we put in place are adequate,” he said during the tour.

Irvine’s sales director, Lovemore Manatsa, noted that the risk of the H5N8 bird flu strain spreading to people from poultry or making food unsafe was low as no affected birds are ever processed or sold into the market.

“As a matter of fact and as per the Veterinary Department guidelines, all affected birds were culled and disposed of at the site on the farm where the infection occurred.

“Our products on the market including day-old chicks, table eggs and chickens among others are safe for human consumption. We will never compromise the safety and well-being of our customers and staff,” he said.

The Avian flu situation is likely to result in chicken shortages on the market, but Irvine’s is already negotiating with the government to be allowed to import hatching eggs in order to mitigate this.

Avian flu outbreaks have been a problem the world over as indicated in the graph below.

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