Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) Outbreak at SANCCOB Cape Town

Positive cases of the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) have been confirmed in African penguins undergoing rehabilitation at the SANCCOB Cape Town centre in Table View. This untreatable virus has swept across the globe causing high mortality amongst terrestrial and marine birds, and since 2018 was detected in seabirds in South Africa during SANCCOB’s disease surveillance work. This week, SANCCOB carried out tests when penguin patients showed symptoms of infection and the outcome of confirmed cases means that several other individuals at the facility might be affected.

Despite the implementation of effective biosecurity protocols and an off-site quarantine facility for new admissions, the probability of the virus reaching the facility was always high, especially during this time of the year when over 400 abandoned penguin chicks have been admitted. Avian Influenza is a zoonotic disease, which must be reported to the State Veterinarian, and as such, the Western Cape Veterinary Services has placed SANCCOB under temporary quarantine, prohibiting any seabird admittances and preventing any seabird releases.

According to SANCCOB’s Head of Conservation, Nicky Stander, whilst the positive test results have come as a blow to the SANCCOB team, a plan has been implemented that aims to minimise the potential spread of the virus. The off-site quarantine facility is operational in the event that we may accept abandoned or sick seabirds rescued from the wild. All the birds cared for at SANCCOB will be observed for any new signs of twitching, seizuring or cloudy eyes, or any other unusual clinical signs. As all treatment attempts of Avian Influenza have been unsuccessful and because of the dangerous sources of infection for other birds, symptomatic birds having head twitches or seizures are euthanised.

SANCCOB would like to alert the public that affected birds showing symptoms are weak and may look tame, show signs of tremors or twitches and seizures or loss of balance, and one or both eyes may be droopy or cloudy. Please do not approach, touch, or handle birds. Contact SANCCOB for further advice on 021 557 6155 or after hours on 078 638 3731. Visitors should also change and clean their shoes and clothes before visiting other seabird colonies or poultry farms to prevent contamination from one site to another.

For media enquiries contact Ronnis Daniels via email at Ronnis@sanccob.co.za.

If you are able to contribute to SANCCOB’s needs at present, please donate to African Penguin and Seabird Conservation here or kindly advise us if you represent an entity that may consider providing funding to support us.