bird flu

Photo by Gallo Images / Thapelo Maphakela

Bird flu strikes South Africa: 7 things you need to know about it

With avian influenza reported on farms in Gauteng and Mpumalanga in the north of the country, here’s the information you need to keep track of when it comes to the deadly virus.

bird flu

Photo by Gallo Images / Thapelo Maphakela

There’s no need to panic… yet

Despite rare outbreaks elsewhere in the world, it is highly unlikely that bird flu will transmit from animals to humans.

While it’s highly contagious and usually lethal to poultry, that doesn’t mean that you’re going to catch it while going about your daily routine.

That’s also the case even if you’re close to an area where there has been a reported outbreak.

It goes by different names

There are a few different terms to look out for if you’re worried about the virus. Avian influenza is the most likely one you’ll see. You may also see it described as H5N1 or H5N8, which are the scientific terms for it.

South Africa wasn’t where it began

Zimbabwe reported the first recent cases in June, at which point the South African government put a halt on importing poultry across the border.

Egypt also reported cases in 2016, while there have been a number of outbreaks in Europe in recent years.

Unfortunately, birds tend to fly over borders, rather than stopping at passport control, so it’s nigh on impossible to keep out completely.

The symptoms can vary

Say “flu” and people have a general idea of what’s involved. But that’s not necessarily the case when an animal virus mutates into a human one.

Although flu-like symptoms are common with a transmission to people, the virus can cause all sorts of nasties from respiratory problems through to death. It has killed 60% of humans infected to date.

Over 200,000 birds have been culled and counting…

It might seem grim, but mass culling if the most effective way to prevent the spread of the virus between animals that are often kept in such close proximity to each other.

The farms where outbreaks are detected are also put under quarantine measures to keep a lid on things.

You can’t catch it from your dinner

Roast chicken, boiled eggs, duck breast… don’t take them off your menu. The cooking process kills of the virus, with the quarantine and culling measures put in place to protect farm workers and the public from the living virus before it reaches your plate.

Besides, wiping out entire populations prevents them reaching your plate in the first place.

It’s a recent phenomenon

Although present in bird life for a long time, much like ‘regular’ strains of influenza in people, avian flu was only found to have transmitted to humans for the first time in 1997.