Avian influenza, otherwise known as ‘avian’ or ‘bird flu’ is an infection caused by a disease derived from Type A viruses. Typically, these viruses spread predominantly through aquatic birds, however that being said they can also infect domestic poultry as well as other species of birds too. For the most part, humans don’t need to worry about contracting avian flu as the human infection rate is relatively low, although it has and can occur. Interestingly avian flu and human flu are essentially the same virus as they share the same ‘viral structure’, however they differ in terms of their H and N proteins.

Currently in South Africa, we are experiencing our worst outbreak of avian flu (HPAI) to date. HPAI is high-pathogenic which means that it has the ability to “induce the disease in a specific host.” The initial outbreak of the virus occurred in the Western Cape in April of this year, according to Dr Abongile Balarane, the General manager of the egg board at the SA Poultry Association. Due to the nature of the virus, it then spread from the Western Cape through the rest of the country, except for the Eastern and Northern Cape as it currently stands. The virus infecting poultry in Gauteng, Limpopo and the Free State is a different strain to that first detected in the Western Cape.

South Africa’s egg producing hen population is estimated to be around 27 million, that are responsible for the daily production of eggs. However, because of the latest outbreak, five million of those have had to be culled. Balarane estimates that this number will rise to around 8.5-million-layer hens. While the SA Poultry Association is confident that the poultry industry will recover quickly, and in the meantime, eggs will be imported to cover the local shortage as an interim measure. Retailers on the other hand, don’t share these views. Woolworths and Pick ‘n Pay have put measures in place to limit customer to between 6 eggs or two packs of eggs a piece until supply starts to return to normal. Shoprite on the other hand has opted not to follow suite but rather work with suppliers to acquire as much stock as possible. It is estimated that the current outbreak will affect egg and poultry supply locally for the next 6 to 18 months.