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Avian flu spreads in S.Africa despite ostrich slaughter

An avian flu outbreak that has halted ostrich meat exports from South Africa has spread to a total of eight farms despite the preventive slaughter of 10,000 birds, officials said Tuesday.

The outbreak, which was first detected on April 9 in South Africa’s Western Cape province, has affected the entire Klein Karoo Valley, home to about 70 percent of the country’s ostrich industry, the agriculture department said in a statement.

“The impact in the Klein Karoo Valley is quite serious as this is the hub of ostrich production and the economy of the area is based on this,” the department said.

Some 10,000 ostriches have been culled to stop the spread of the virus, highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), and preventive slaughter will continue until the outbreak is contained, the department said.

The South African Ostrich Business Chamber has said the strain of the virus is not dangerous to humans but is threatening the country’s ostrich industry, which represents some 65 percent of the world’s ostrich meat production.

South Africa suspended exports of the product on April 14. The European Commission last week sent a team of animal health experts to the country to help contain the outbreak.

South Africa experienced HPAI outbreaks in 2004 and 2006, but like the current cases they were not caused by the H5N1 strain of the virus, which can be fatal to humans, the EU executive said.