The mystery of hundreds of birds dying across the province has finally been solved — and the good news is that while cross-infection to humans may occur, it is rare and the symptoms are mild.
Avian Paramyxovirus and Newcastle disease viruses were revealed late on Tuesday afternoon as the causes of death for birds and poultry in Gqeberha, East London, King William’s Town and Komani.
The carcasses were sent to labs in Pretoria and Komani for testing in March.
“Human infection with this virus is rare and may only occur in people in close contact with infected birds, causing flu-like symptoms,” Eastern Cape rural development and agrarian reform department spokesperson Masiza Mazizi said.
Species affected included sparrows, doves, hadedas, chickens and geese.
Avian Paramyxovirus is a viral infection that can spread rapidly, causing high rates of pigeon illness and death.
While cross-infection to humans may occur, it is rare and the symptoms are mild
It is fairly common in most countries.
“[Avian Paramyxovirus] is capable of affecting other avian species, including poultry, but so far there has not been any positive detection of natural infection of domestic fowls, including on major broiler farms,” Mazizi said.
Some of the signs of the virus in birds included lethargy, vomiting or regurgitation, green diarrhoea, twisting of the neck, circling, head flicking, laboured breathing and runny eyes,” he said.
Infected birds usually died within three days and there was no known cure.
“Infected birds shed the virus in their faeces and other discharges, contaminating the environment including water, feed, equipment and human clothing.
“Confirmation of the disease requires laboratory analysis,” Mazizi said.
Bird keepers were also advised to implement biosecurity measures and vaccination for their birds
Bird keepers were also advised to implement biosecurity measures and vaccination for their birds to help curb the spread.
Newcastle disease is the viral infection of poultry.
The disease fowls, turkeys, geese, ducks, guinea fowls and other wild and captive birds, including ostriches and emus.
It is a worldwide problem that causes acute respiratory disease with nervous signs.
Vaccinations are, however, available.
Symptoms in humans include mild flu, conjunctivitis (pink eye) and laryngitis.
The symptoms usually last up to four days and dissipate without treatment.
But Mazizi warned contact between wild birds and domestic poultry needed to be prevented at all costs.
Any person working with birds or poultry needed to clean and disinfect footwear regularly… and prevent contact with wild birds as much as possible
In addition, any person working with birds or poultry needed to clean and disinfect footwear regularly, wash hands and clothes after visiting birds, disinfect equipment used to house, transport and feed birds and prevent contact with wild birds as much as possible.
Any new birds or birds returning from a show race needed to be quarantined for at least two weeks, the department warned.
Sandula Conservation owner Mark Marshall said he had received more than 70 call-outs for dead birds in Gqeberha over the past week.