It has been confirmed that Cape Town’s Penguin colony in Simons Town has been hit with avian flu.

Avian influenza is a viral infection that can infect not only birds, but also humans and other animals. Most forms of the virus are restricted to birds. Since August last year, over 2-million birds have died due to the outbreak.

“Table Mountain management would like to alert the public that several cases of bird flu in the penguin colony at Boulders have been confirmed by state veterinary services,” The Table Mountain National Park spokesperson, Merle Collins said.

“It is reiterated that this virus is a very low risk to humans, but is a real threat to domestic poultry. This strain of avian influenza virus (H5N8 strain) has been detected in a range of wild seabirds eg. swift, sandwich and common terns, African penguins and gannets.”

Those visiting the park should adhere to the following:
  • With the exception of visitors on Boulders Beach boardwalk, nobody may access the main breeding colony.
  • In instances where staff need to go off boardwalks to collect injured birds or hats, camera lens, caps etc dropped by visitors they will limit their access to essential work and then sterilise their boots afterwards – gum boots have been issued and are easier to clean than the normal boot.
  • Monitoring routes used for moult/nest counts have been reviewed to ensure that staff and Penguin monitors do not walk through the main breeding colony.

Collins said the Western Cape was the most affected area.

The virus is spread from bird to bird, by contaminated bird faeces and other body excretions, and by handling sick birds. Even though the virus is unlikely to infect humans, precautions should nevertheless be taken. Gloves, shoes, clothes, and other protective gear should be worn if handling birds.

Any equipment including vehicles and protective clothing that could possibly be contaminated should be sterilised.

If you have come into contact with infected birds, look out for these symptoms:

  • cough
  • diarrhea
  • respiratory difficulties
  • fever (over 38°C)
  • a headache
  • muscle aches
  • malaise
  • a runny nose
  • a sore throat

If you’re exposed to bird flu, you should notify staff before you arrive at the doctor’s office or hospital. Alerting them ahead of time will allow them to take precautions to protect staff and other patients before caring for you.

H5N1 is the most common form of bird flu. It’s deadly to birds and can easily affect humans and other animals that come in contact with a carrier. According to the World Health Organization, H5N1 was first discovered in humans in 1997 and has killed nearly 60 percent of those infected. While the virus is highly pathogenic to chickens and other poultry, the impact on wild seabirds is not that well understood (so far one tern and two penguins from Boulders have come back positive for H5N8).

Western Cape Veterinary Services, CapeNature, SANParks, the national Department of Environmental Affairs, City of Cape Town, SANCCOB and other seabird rehabilitation centres and private veterinarians are working in close cooperation to monitor the situation and perform further testing.

Closing the colony to visitors is not justified at this stage.


Pictures: Twitter

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