S. African poultry industry hit by ‘worst’ bird flu outbreak

South African poultry farmers are cautioning about potential shortages of chicken and eggs as they confront what the industry describes as the most severe bird flu outbreak to ever affect the nation.

Quantum Foods, a producer, announced on Friday that this year it suffered losses of nearly two million chickens, amounting to over 100 million rand ($5.3 million) in value, due to the disease.

“The bird flu outbreak is the worst that South Africa has witnessed,” fellow producer Astral said in a trading update on Thursday.

“(It) has already caused short supplies of table eggs into the market, and it is expected that the supply of poultry meat into the value chain could be affected negatively in the coming months.”

The company has reported that the outbreak has incurred costs of 220 million rand up to this point.

South Africa, one of the prominent poultry producers in the continent, documented its initial cases of bird flu in commercial farms in April, as reported by an industry association.

Earlier this month, the South African Poultry Association (SAPA) revealed that the country was grappling with two distinct strains of the virus: the well-known H5N1 and a newly identified strain called H7N6.

The latter strain was rapidly spreading throughout the northeastern provinces of Mpumalanga and Gauteng, as reported by Astral, a South African poultry company.

Bird flu ordinarily does not transmit to humans. However, there is growing concern as H5N1 is increasingly infecting mammals across the globe, including cases involving sea lions in Argentina and foxes in Finland. This has raised apprehensions that it may become more capable of human transmission.

The virus has traditionally been limited to seasonal outbreaks. However, since 2021, cases have been appearing throughout the year and across various regions worldwide. Experts now contend that this constitutes the most extensive outbreak ever documented.

SAPA reported that the number of avian flu cases in South Africa this year has exceeded the count for any previous year since the initial outbreaks were recorded in commercial farms back in 2017.

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