Poultry Diseases Surveillance in the spotlight

Since most of you will be reading this edition at Avi Africa, I could spend time sharing the achievements and the challenges faced by the PDMA in the last year. However, since there will be many other opportunities to do that, I would like to take this opportunities to discuss a matter that is very close to my heart. I would like us to reflect about what we are doing individually and collectively to understand the disease situation in the country and how we can work together to start reducing the national disease burden.

We have launched a few initiatives that you may well be aware of. We are also working very closely with DAFF to ensure consistency in the work and also to employ the limited resources in the most productive manner. We wish to have the producers as active participants in all these processes and hope that you will send your contributions to make sure that these processes stay relevant to your needs.

1. Establishing the farm locations

In order to effectively fight diseases, it is essential that we have a good idea of where our poultry farms are. This also helps to mobilise the appropriate resources in an event of a major disease outbreak. We would like to thank you for your participation and as you can see from the diagrams below, we have made great strides in this regard and it is through all your inputs and commitment.

Figure 1: Map of farm locations based of 2013 coordinates

We have moved from having farms in the ocean, Mozambique, Lesotho and even further north to farms being limited to within the South African borders. This is indeed a great achievement and it will help with further projects. Obviously we will continue to make improvements to the information and get it as accurate and is humanly possible.

Figure 2: Map of farm locations based of 2014 coordinates

2. AI Surveillance changes and improvements

It is now a known fact that in order to demonstrate our freedom from Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, we have mandatory biannual testing to be done by all farmers. The government is responsible for the testing of backyard and smallholder farms. The commercial farmers are responsible for testing of their own flocks. Most of you who do business in other country know the importance of such testing to maintaining your businesses with the trading partners. The importance of this cannot be over emphasised.

In the past, the routine surveillance protocol was embedded in the AI contingency plan, which those of you who have seen it would agree it is quite a cumbersome document, but still very important document. Since routine testing is conducted twice a year, it was decided that the surveillance protocol would serve the industry better as a stand-alone easily accessible document. It is also important to point out that even though our potential trading partners are only interested in H5 and H7, in South Africa, all avian influenzas are controlled diseases. This means that any positive influenza result has to be reported to the state vets.

It is for this reason that we have in the new protocol highlighted the need to start testing with a screening ELISA and then typing any positive results into whatever influenza that it may be. The positive results again need to be reported to the state vets. This is essentially for your protection so that we can keep track of the influenza circulating in the environment, including the ones that can potentially destroy the industry. It is also important to note that all kinds of influenzas are routines isolated in wild birds, meaning the threat is never far away as evidenced by the ostrich situation.

We would like to encourage you to keep testing and also to submit your test results to the local state vet and also to SAPA for record keeping. If there are any of you who have problems with identifying your local state vet, please let us know and we will assist with the connections. Most provinces are good with data submission, but there are some who in spite of spending money testing their flocks never submit the results to the state. This unfortunately has a grave impact on not only the province but the country as a whole, including other industries.

3. Food-borne Diseases Surveillance Project

As part of our continued collaboration with the department, the PDMA is working with DAFF VPH to develop a protocol for surveying the food-borne diseases. DAFF VPH in collaboration with the Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute is rolling out a project to test beef, pork and poultry products for food-borne bacteria. We are working with them to develop the poultry testing protocol that will be used by both parties. The Onderstepoort Epidemiology Professors have been engaged to draft this protocol. This protocol we help to standardise the work done by industry as well as government. It helps to make better use of the limited resources. It will help to produce meaningful reports that will help the strategy for improving food quality and producing safe food for both parties.

Once the product testing has been perfected, the focus with shift to the farm testing to limited the transfer of pathogens from the farms to the forks. This project has already started and we hope to conclude most of it during the course of 2014. The same protocol will be used to monitor the imported products and also the products intended for the export markets. It is also envisaged that the protocol will be accepted by the retailers so that one standard testing can be conducted to satisfy all the retailers.

4. Mycoplasma Surveillance Project

I think we are in agreement that Mycoplasmas are probably the most important group of diseases in poultry due to their resilience and tendencies to stick around despite all efforts made to eradicate them from farms. Most producers have accepted that they are going to have to farm with Mycoplasma and make the best of a very difficult situation.

As recognition of this, Prof Celia Abolnik gained funding from the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) to conduct research into the local mycoplasma situation and working towards finding solution to the problem. The first stage of the project is to collect circulation field strains and doing full genome sequencing to establish the various types of strains, how they related to the available vaccines and also how they differ from area to area. This project kicked-off in April 2014 and we are working through the veterinarians to get the information in. The target populations are the table egg layers as well as all types of breeders. All producers are encouraged to take part in the surveillance so that we can start to work towards finding some solutions to the problem.

This phase of the project will run from April to September 2014. If there are any of you who wish to participate but do not have the services of a consulting vet, please contact the PDMA and we can link you up with either a poultry-trained state vet or one of the consulting vets in your area. This project is very important to the fight against mycoplasma and we really encourage you to participate so that we can start to make meaningful progress in the fight against the disease.

5. Laboratory collaboration for disease reporting

In 2014 during the Newcastle Disease outbreak, the PDMA received numerous requests for updates on the disease and how it was moving around the country. Unfortunately at the moment the PDMA relies on the producers and the veterinarian to submit the information. This has not worked very well thus far. In an attempt to get some data coming in and reports going out, we are looking at working with the laboratories to access the information. We will be signing an agreement with the department, which will enable us as the PDMA to collect the information and produce reports for the benefit of the industry at large. We will also be working to further develop the disease reporting tools further.

We acknowledge that these are very difficult times for the industry and we plan to focus on those things that will help the industry save money and still move forward. We believe that reducing the disease burden will go a long way in assisting because the more birds that one can sell, the more money one is able to make. I urge you to continue providing feedback that will enable us to stay on track and also employ these scarce resources for maximum output and results.