Govt issues bird flu warning

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Bereng Mpaki

LESOTHO has not banned poultry imports but only advised importers to only use approved companies when sourcing poultry products to avoid bringing into the country, the highly contagious H5N8 bird flu virus that has been reported in parts of South Africa.

This was revealed by the Department of Livestock Services in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security.

Being a net importer of poultry products, Lesotho relies on imports from South Africa to meet its domestic demand, with only minimal poultry production done locally.

Although the virus has been reported in the nearby Free State of South Africa, it has not been reported in Lesotho.

However, concerns have been raised as to whether Lesotho was doing enough to guard against the disease.

Southern African countries such as Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia have all banned the importation of poultry products from South Africa.

The H5N8 virus is a subtype of the Influenza A virus (sometimes called bird flu virus). Although H5N8 is considered one of the less pathogenic subtypes for humans, it is beginning to become more pathogenic.

Though human infections with virus are rare and generally occur in individuals exposed to sick or dead infected birds (or their environments), they can lead to severe illness or death in humans. Its spread is believed to be aided by wild bird migrations.

For the most part, symptoms of the H5N8 virus in humans are respiratory. The common symptoms are “flu-like”: fever, chills, headache, coughing, and weakness. Conjunctivitis reportedly has been associated with the virus, as well.

Yesterday, officials from the Department of Livestock Services told the Lesotho Times that they were not taking the ‘bird flu’ issue for granted and they were closely monitoring developments in neighbouring South Africa.

Acting Director of the Department, Dr Relebohile Mahloane said their South African counterparts contacted them as soon as the virus was confirmed in that country on 22 June.

“They wrote to us to inform us of the outbreak, its extent and the measures of self-imposed ban they have put in place in order to control it,” Dr Mahloane said.

“Our deliberations centred on the fact that it is not all of South Africa that has been affected but only certain parts of it.

“So, after carefully assessing the situation, Lesotho has therefore resolved to apply a precautionary measure of advising all our importers to use only approved meat establishments in South Africa to source their chicken and chicken products,” Dr Mahloane said.

He said approved meat establishments included animal farms, abattoirs and related handling centres which were free from contamination as they were highly secured.

Dr Mahloane who is also head of the Veterinary Services section in the Department further indicated that poultry importers were informed of the department’s resolution whenever they came to apply for import permits, which were imposed to manage the importation of certain agricultural products like poultry into the country.

“South Africa has given us a list of approved establishments from which we can source poultry that is not contaminated with the virus. So we give this list to our importers when they come to apply for their import permits.”

He said there was no need for panic as they were closely monitoring the situation to ensure that people were not infected as the disease can infect those who eat contaminated products.

Asked how the new regulation is likely to impact on the importers, Dr Mahloane they might have to change suppliers which could mean incurring more travelling costs.

There is however, a possibility that the virus could still find its way into the country through smuggled poultry products.

 

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