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Bird Flu: Virus is Killing, Affecting Wild and Domestic Birds

South Africa's biggest egg producer, Quantum Foods, said on Tuesday its profit slump for its half-year to end March won't be as bad ...

South Africa's biggest egg producer, Quantum Foods, said on Tuesday its profit slump for its half-year to end March won't be as bad as previously feared in part due to demand picking up. 

But it has since been forced to kill 420 000 chickens at one of its farms in the Western Cape due to an outbreak of avian influenza. The outbreak also risks a further reduction in egg production, it warned.

Quantum said the outbreak at the Lemoenkloof layer farm in the second half of April 2023 had affected nearby farms, and along with a direct cost of R34 million, would prompt additional costs in terms of supplying the province with eggs.

Quantum, valued at less than R1 billion on the JSE, produced more than one billion eggs in 2022 and 76 million day-old chicks, but like its industry peers, it's been hard hit by load shedding and a surge in feed costs, along with a persistent risk of disease outbreaks.

In February, the company warned it expected to swing into a loss in its half year to end-March, but it said on Tuesday it only expects its headline earnings per share to fall as much as 87%. The company booked headline earnings of about R33 million in its prior half year.

Quantum said on Tuesday the improved profit guidance follows better operational efficiencies and financial performance for the layer farming business, as well as improved trading conditions for the eggs business during February and March.

Shares in Quantum were unchanged on Tuesday afternoon, but have lost more than 11% over the past year.
Bird Flu: Virus is Killing, Affecting Wild and Domestic Birds

According to Vox, in the past two years, a viral disease has swept across much of the planet — not Covid but a type of avian flu. It’s devastated the poultry industry in the US, Europe, and elsewhere, sickening millions of farmed birds, which either die from infection or are killed by farmers seeking to stem the spread.

The poultry outbreak has become an animal welfare crisis. It’s also one reason eggs have become so expensive; there are simply fewer hens to lay them. But the virus is causing another major crisis that’s drawn far less attention: the death of wild birds.

The ongoing outbreak of avian flu has killed hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of wild birds, including endangered species like the California condor. It’s one of the worst wildlife disease outbreaks in history. 

Having now spread across five continents and hundreds of wildlife species, scientists call the current outbreak a panzootic, meaning a pandemic among animals.

“What we’re seeing right now is uncharted territory,” said Andrew Ramey, a wildlife geneticist at the US Geological Survey, one of the federal agencies involved in testing wild birds for the virus.

The number of dead birds in itself is historic, but so is the virus’s biology. Typically, avian influenza viruses only cause severe disease and death in domestic birds like chickens and farmed ducks; they sweep through populations, killing upward of 90 percent of the flock.

This virus, however, is different. It’s hammering wild birds and other wildlife, including mammals. “It’s causing a high amount of mortality in a huge breadth of wild birds, which is not something that has been seen before,” said Wendy Puryear, a molecular virologist at Tufts University who studies viral evolution.

This is especially concerning because birds are already at risk across the world. North America alone has lost an astonishing 3 billion breeding birds in the last half-century, due to threats like climate change, predation by feral and pet cats, and the loss of grasslands and other habitats. This panzootic is only making an ongoing extinction crisis worse.

The virus could also pose a threat to us. While it doesn’t readily infect and spread among people today, the avian virus could evolve traits that make it more dangerous to humans as it circulates among wild animals. That’s another reason scientists are taking the outbreak among wild birds so seriously.
An unusual avian flu

Viruses that cause avian flu are actually pretty common. They’ve been circulating for eons among wild birds — and especially waterfowl, such as ducks and geese — without causing them much harm. These mild forms of infection are called low-pathogenic avian influenza, or LPAI, which means they’re typically not deadly.

On occasion, a low-pathogenic virus can jump from wild birds to poultry farms. As the virus replicates in densely packed warehouses of farmed birds, it can quickly evolve and pick up adaptations that make it highly deadly to poultry. 

At that point, it gets dubbed a highly pathogenic avian influenza virus, or HPAI virus. Historically, however, most of these HPAI viruses haven’t killed large numbers of wild birds, even if they did spill out of the farm and back into wild populations.

Then came an avian flu outbreak on a goose farm in China. - Online Sources 

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