Bird Flu Outbreak

Hundreds of penguins dead on Halifax Island – Lüderitz

Agriculture Ministry warns if the virus spreads beyond

Eileen van der Schyff

Avian flu, better known as bird flu, has been identified as the killer of masses of penguins on Halifax Island near Lüderitz. A mass mortality on Halifax Island can wipe out as much as 10 % of Namibia’s total penguin population.

In a statement this week the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry said although the bird flu remains contained to Halifax Island at the moment, there is a risk it could spread to the mainland where it could have devastated effects on both wild- and domestic bird life. Bird flu can wipe out entire bird colonies and is known to have collapsed industries like poultry industries in Asian countries.
The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources also this week issued a media release stating it would take all necessary measures to contain and prevent the further spread of the Avian Influenza (H5N8) at Halifax Island.
The Central Veterinary Laboratory collected samples from penguin carcasses and it tested positive for this Avian Influenza Type H5N8 (bird flu) virus.
This type of virus occurs in nature among wild aquatic birds worldwide. However, it can infect poultry and other domestic birds as well as certain animal species. The ministry did not elaborate what animal species, but there is widespread concern that should the avian flu spread risks are high for both the agriculture industry as well as for Namibian wildlife species.
When wild aquatic birds are infected with Avian Influenza type A, it infects their intestines and respiratory tract, but they usually do not get sick. This type of virus is highly contagious among birds and some strains of these viruses can sicken or even kill certain domesticated bird species like chickens, ducks and turkeys. Infected birds spread the virus through saliva, nasal secretions and faeces. Healthy birds can contract the virus by merely sharing the same nesting or roosting surfaces with contaminated birds. Contaminated birds can spread the virus to healthy birds they get in contact with or where surfaces from infected birds also pose a risk to infection of other bird species.
The Agriculture Ministry confirmed officials will conduct regular site visits to the island to collect and incinerate birds killed by the virus. Contaminated live birds will be isolated from the rest of the colony and as large as possible surfaces will be disinfected by a mixture of salt and chemicals. Bird flu cannot survive in brine (high salt content) conditions.
The first dead birds on Halifax Island were discovered between late December 2018 and early January this year. The Ministry further reports an estimated 250 penguins have died, representing 10 percent of the colony strength of Halifax.
Note: Halifax Island is situated roughly 10 km from Lüderitz near Diaz Point, about 100 m off the mainland. It is the third most important breeding site for African Penguins and is home to about 2 500 penguins that contribute to the entire Namibian population of about 26 000 penguins. Other seabirds breeding on Halifax Island include Crowned Cormorants, Swift Terns and Hartlaub’s Gulls.”

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