In March, three dead penguins at Boulders Beach were positively diagnosed with avian influenza, sparking fears of a bird flu outbreak. Since those deaths, another 16 penguins from the same colony have died.
The deaths, labeled as ‘abnormal deaths’, occurred between 15 February and 26 March 2018. This is out of a population of 1 700 penguins.
State veterinarian and epidemiologist of the Department of Education in the Western Cape, Doctor Laura Roberts, has said that three of the 16 penguins will undergo testing to confirm whether or not avian influenza is the cause of their deaths.
A swift tern at Boulders Beach has also tested positively for avian flu, but only one other swift tern carcass was recorded since 20 March.
It is not yet known how this influenza outbreak will affect the overall penguin population of the colony. Staff, however, are monitoring the population closely, and the testing of ill birds is conducted at regular intervals to monitor the presence of the disease.
Avian flu is spread from bird to bird, via droplets of mucus, faeces and other body excretions.
It should also be noted that the specific strain of of avian influenza detected at Boulders Beach (the H5N8 strain) is of very low risk to humans, and can be cured if treated within 48 hours of the appearance of the first symptoms.
These symptoms include:
- respiratory difficulties
- fever higher than 38°C
- muscle aches
- runny nose
- sore throat
Gloves, shoes, clothes, and other protective gear should be worn when handling ill birds.
This strain of avian influenza has been detected in a range of wild seabirds in the Boulders Beach area, including swift terns, sandwich terns, common terns, gannets and African penguins.
The H5N8 strain has been detected in several countries in Europe, Africa and Asia over the past two years, with its spread aided by wild bird migrations. It is also highly pathogenic among fowl.