St Helena had a “shot across the bows” last Thursday 21 August, when SHG announced an outbreak of a “serious and highly contagious” bird disease, discovered in two chicken flocks, one at Half Tree Hollow that other at New Ground.
At the time of going to print (27/8/14) no further cases have been reported to ANRD.
Upon showing symptoms the flocks were swiftly culled to curb spread of the unknown disease and one of the owners Raymond Reynolds, lost 80-90 of his chickens to the virus.
An eight week quarantine is imposed on both properties lasting until 17 October.
Senior Veterinary Officer, Joe Hollins was alerted to the problem of ‘dying chickens’ about three weeks earlier. He initially thought it might be poisoning, but saw some “staggering in cases, more like a virus,” he told SAMS.
Joe said the infected birds tested negative for bird flu.
ANRD believes there are no human health issues relating to this specific disease.
Joe is working closely with FAO, the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation, in Weybridge, Surrey, UK and samples have been collected to be hand delivered (by Joe) to their laboratories for analysis and diagnosis.
Although the virus remains unknown, “My concern is that this group of virus’ can affect all birds, it’s been recorded in over 250 species,” he said. “The good news (if any) is that different strains affect different bird types differently. In the first outbreak we had two ducks that were barely affected. My concern obviously is for the marine birds and for the wirebirds... serious issues.
“Transmission almost certainly has been by wild birds but we need to think about how it’s got here.”
Any ideas? “We’ve got good ideas, and we have to use this as a lesson. This is a big shot across the bows. I’ve been concerned about introducing exotic veterinary disease on the island, and that’s because we have uncontrolled meat and dairy imports. I know it’s not popular but we are looking at the bio security issues around that.
“In the EU we know (with a few problems occasionally) the meats are reliably sourced and produced and from EU accredited premises.
“However, these imports are dangerous. We don’t know what residues are in there, what heavy metals, what drugs, what growth promoters, what contamination there has been in the handling.
“So as far as this potential virus is concerned we think we’re looking at a group of virus’ called Newcastle Disease also called fowl plague. It’s endemic in South Africa. This is what I’ve been told by the Central Veterinary Laboratory. South Africa have stopped reporting it to the World Animal Health Organisation, because it’s so widespread.
“That is the concern, you only need some raw chicken meat that’s gone to the birds or put out for the pigs, and the Pandora’s box is opened.
“I will entreat people and retailers to understand why we want to bring in controls on these animal products.”
There were public concerns that the outbreak may be related to the unidentified animal first reported nearly two months ago. “No, mammals would not bring this ashore. But if it is a canid there are a few things it can bring with it.”
The RMS brought vaccinations that were were hastily boarded after “speculation” of what the disease may be, these will initially be used to protect the nucleus stock, the source of replacement stock on island.
Poultry owners should immediately report cases of the disease to ARND and use the guidelines issued by SHG to minimise spread. “The chances of it spreading if nobody does anything is quite high,” said Joe. Joe goes on leave on Friday leaving this issue in the hands of a “genuinely fantastic team. The main thing now is to get this thing diagnosed.”
||This report and more appears in The Sentinel of 28 August 2014