Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Bird flu continues to kill penguins

Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources scientists of namibia found 27 penguins dead and three sick birds showing symptoms of Bird flu, even with the efforts from the ministry to control the spread of the virus.

Health

The scientists continue to take necessary measures to contain the infection as well as prevent further spreading by collecting and burning dead carcasses, isolating sick birds showing symptoms as well as disinfecting wet areas around the colonies where most dead birds have been found. The wet areas were disinfected by spreading salts on the mud pools at the colonies and covering it up with beach sand.   The fisheries biologist under the Seabirds and Offshore Islands Section, Desmond Tom, indicated that a virologist from University of Namibia is willing to do DNA sequencing for viral genomics, discovery and evolution with the assistance of veterinarians from SANCCOB, Cape Town, South Africa. He said they are continuing to put salt and isolation of sick ones from healthy penguins to control the spread of the virus, as the virus needs to run its course, as there is no vaccine for it. The ministry of fisheries’ officers started visiting the Island weekly after the swab samples collected on penguins last year at Halifax Island in Lüderitz and tested by the Central Veterinary Laboratory, tested positive of Avian Influenza H5N8. Avian influenza refers to infection of birds with Avian Influenza Type A virus. It occurs naturally among wild birds worldwide and can infect domestic poultry and other bird species.

The H5N8 virus Type A cannot survive brine (salty) conditions. The officials pay regular visits if possible (once per week) to the island and repeat these procedures to avoid further spreading of the virus. They also carry biosecurity measures on the island, on board the research vessel (RV Anichab) and at the Seabird Rehabilitation Facility to avoid further spreading of the highly pathogenic virus.

The report indicated the death of penguins on Halifax Island was discovered mid December 2018 to date. More than 500 penguins, mostly adults have been reported dead even though chicks and juveniles are also affected.

Halifax Island is situated about 10 kilometres west of Lüderitz near Diaz Point, about 100 metres off the mainland.  It is the second most important breeding site for African penguins and is home to about 7 000 penguins that contribute to the entire population of about 26 000 penguins in Namibia. The African penguins are endangered seabirds in Namibia and they are endemic to Namibia and South Africa.

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