August 30, 2017 / 2:10 PM / in 6 months

South Africa hit by 24 bird flu outbreaks since June

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa has detected 24 outbreaks of the H5N8 strain of bird flu since June, including 10 at commercial chicken farms and three at ostrich farms, Agriculture Minister Senzeni Zokwana said on Wednesday.

The virus is highly pathogenic in birds and has hit companies such as RCL Foods, which said last week that the cost of the outbreaks at its farms amounted to 50 million rand ($3.84 million). The strain is considered unlikely to infect humans.

“The virus can cause big losses in poultry and it is a priority to contain and eradicate the disease,” said Agriculture Minister, Senzeni Zokwana.

The government will publish draft compensation guidelines to affected farmers on Friday and is also looking to import fertilized eggs from Brazil to plug a gap as thousands of chickens and eggs are destroyed after they had been infected.

The current outbreak is believed to have spread from neighboring Zimbabwe, where the disease was first noticed early in June.

“Negotiations with international trade partners are ongoing to ensure continuation of trade ... as well as the export of fresh ostrich meat from a closed holding,” Zokwana said.

In 2011, South Africa culled 10,000 ostriches after an outbreak of another, less virulent form of bird flu halted ostrich-meat exports to the European Union. That ban, which was triggered by the avian flu outbreak, was lifted in 2015.

($1 = 13.0341 rand)

Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by James Macharia

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