”We have placed a general ban on the sale of live hens across the country until further notice,” department spokesperson Bomikazi Molapo said.

The sale of live hens has been banned in South Africa after avian flu was confirmed at a farm in Mpumalanga, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries announced on Saturday.

This was after a highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N8 was confirmed in a broiler breeder site in Mpumalanga on Thursday  June 22.

‘HPAI is a rapidly spreading viral disease that can infect many types of birds and it is highly contagious.  It exists naturally in many birds and can be transmitted by coming into contact with infected animals or through ingestion of infected food or water,” the department explained.

The farm, which has not been named yet, has been quarantined and the affected animals have been already been culled there.

Hens are female chickens and those in broiler breeder sites are usually spent after a year, and are sold to small businesses who then sell them on at markets in towns and villages.

The department is tracing the movement of all poultry in and out of the farm in order to establish the source of the Influenza.

A 30km control zone in Mpumalanga and Free State has already been set up and provinces are on high alert.

To contain the situation, the department ordered the following:

– A complete standstill of movement of poultry and poultry products on the infected farm(s). Nothing is to enter or leave the farm;

– Birds at the infected sites will be euthanised humanely;

– State vets are conducting inspections starting with all the farms within a 3 km and a further 27km (30km) radius around the affected farm to gather information on the health status of the birds;

– Poultry and poultry products may only move from these farms with a State Vet Permit;

– Trading partners have been notified and the department is unable currently to issue the declaration of ”country freedom of highly pathogenic avian influenza for trade in fresh poultry meat and unprocessed poultry products”;

– Exports of processed poultry products, live chickens and fresh products from registered poultry compartment will continue depending on the requirements of the importing countries;

No human cases of infection with avian flu H5N8 have been reported, but people handling wild birds, sick or dying poultry must wear protective clothing and wash their hands with disinfectants.

Meat from healthy poultry is safe for consumption as it is subjected to strict meat inspection processes at abattoirs.

The department stressed that people must not eat birds found dead, dying or sick.

There is no effective treatment for the disease yet.

The department asked that infected animals be humanely destroyed and disposed of.

Molapo said the ban on the sale of live hens includes free range hens.

She said chickens already in supermarkets would have been vetted and are safe.