Prohibition On Imports Of Poultry And Poultry Products From South Africa Due To Avian Influenza Outbreak

There has been ongoing ‘highly pathogenic avian influenza’ (HPAI) or ‘bird flu’ outbreak in South Africa, of the strains HPAI H5 and H7, over the last few months. These are now spreading across most of South Africa, with reports in seven provinces so far and the number of newly detected H7 and H5 PCR positive farms increasing.

The avian influenza viruses are common and include many strains. Only some strains are classified as ‘highly pathogenic’ or HPAI for short. It should be noted that the term ‘highly pathogenic’ refers only to 4-8 week old chicks with a 75% death rate and not to any other species. How serious the virus is varies enormously between different bird species, and whilst the spread of the virus seems to be occurring due to migratory bird species, the current outbreak is being driven mostly be commercial bird farming. Whilst little information is currently available on the H5 and H7 strains and their human impact, there have been no reports of serious illness or death in humans.

As far as St Helena is concerned, the risk is primarily to our poultry flocks and other resident birds of note such as seabirds and the endemic wirebird, although the latter two categories should in theory be little affected. The mode of spread could only be through the importation of eggs and raw poultry meat from South Africa, as apart from the occasional vagrant bird such as cattle egrets, the Island is not on any migratory routes.

South Africa has put in place biosecurity measures in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus, however relying on South Africa’s measures will not minimise the risk and St Helena needs to put into place its own measures to prevent the introduction of the virus into the territory.

To this end, the Environment, Natural Resources and Planning Portfolio have been working with the Island’s importers to make them aware of a proposal for a prohibition on poultry and poultry products from South Africa.

The Executive Council has since discussed a risk assessment for the Island and agreed on certain actions to protect St Helena. Although the risk is low we are applying the precautionary principle and so poultry, and poultry products, originating from South Africaare being prohibited from importation into St Helena.

What is being prohibited?

Prohibitions will apply as listed in the table below:

ProductTerritory originating from, produced in, OR repackaged inProhibitionDate
Live poultrySouth AfricaProhibitedBy air: 15 October 2023
By sea: After completion of offloading of Voyage 5 of Maria da Paz
Bird eggs whether entire or without shellSouth AfricaProhibitedBy air: 15 October 2023
By sea: After completion of offloading of Voyage 5 of Maria da Paz
Raw meat of all bird speciesSouth AfricaProhibitedBy air: 15 October 2023
By sea: After completion of offloading of Voyage 5 of Maria da Paz
Raw offal of all bird speciesSouth AfricaProhibitedBy air: 15 October 2023
By sea: After completion of offloading of Voyage 5 of Maria da Paz

The ban does not include commercially packaged pre-cooked chicken or cooked chicken products such as may be included as an ingredient in canned goods, pizzas, pies etc.

At this time there is no prohibition on imports of these products from territories other than South Africa.

The epidemic is expected to wax and wane with the seasonal migration of birds, but we will be monitoring the situation and will remove the ban only once the spread of disease is clearly under control.

Why are these goods being permitted on the next flight and the next MV Maria da Paz call?

These goods have been permitted to land because of certain ‘mitigating factors’ that currently make them low risk:

  • Frozen chicken meat is generally processed well in advance, and it is likely that for the vast majority of Voyage 5 imports this will have preceded the spread of the outbreaks in South Africa.
  • In addition, H5 and H7 strains in poultry are so virulent that it cannot go unnoticed in commercial establishments bar the brief incubation period, so it is highly unlikely that products from infected premises would have reached markets for export, and if they have, only in very limited quantities.
  • Furthermore, unlike beef and lamb, chicken meat is not eaten part cooked but well cooked, and indeed always should be because of common bacterial contamination.
  • The viruses are fragile and highly susceptible to disinfectants, are rapidly and easily destroyed by ordinary chlorinated tap water, and are also inactivated by heat. Heating chicken meat up to just 70°C destroys the viruses in less than four seconds.
  • Eggs arrive fresh, not frozen, and whilst contamination is mainly on the exterior of the egg, imported eggs are generally washed with chlorinated water so that this is minimised. Whilst eggs are often cooked in a way that they are still semi-raw when consumed, heat itself inactivates the virus.

Why are these products being banned from future voyages and flights?

Because, like all epidemics, it is expected that the cases in South Africa will rise and the risk of introduction onto the Island, whilst currently low, will increase. St Helena Government is taking a cautious approach, but will nonetheless keep the situation under constant review. Once the risk has subsided and it is safe to do so, we will lift the prohibition.

What routine precautions can I take myself?

The following is advised:

  1. Hands should always be washed after preparing raw poultry meat
  2. Kitchen surfaces and chopping boards should always be washed down and thoroughly cleaned after the preparation of raw poultry meat
  3. Poultry meat should always be well cooked
  4. Wash imported South African eggs prior to cracking (with chlorinated tap water if available). This is not necessary if being prepared as a boiled egg
  5. South African eggs should be well cooked and at least well heated through
  6. Egg shells, discarded eggs and raw poultry meat of South African origin should be bagged and the bag tied before disposal in the wheelie bin to minimise scavenging by mynah birds
  7. Egg shells, discarded eggs and raw poultry meat of South African origin should not be fed to poultry and pigs in kitchen waste as swill
  8. Egg shells fed to poultry as a source of calcium should first be baked in the oven

Inevitably, the ban on these products will result in some inconvenience to the general public and to merchants. Everyone is thanked for their cooperation in helping to protect our Island.

If you require further information please contact:

Alternatively, both officers can be contacted on telephone 24724.

Note to Editors

A statement from the South African Government on 25 September 2023 indicated that up to the 21 September 2023, a total of 50 H7 and 10 HPAI H5 reports have been confirmed. New cases are being reported in all types of commercial chicken in the provinces of Kwazulu-Natal, Western Cape, Free State, Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West respectively. Gauteng Province has being the hardest hit, with HPAI H7 outbreaks and the Western Cape is the hardest hit with regards to the HPAI H5 strain. The natural reservoir of the viruses are the aquatic birds such as shore birds, waders and sea birds and these are largely unaffected.

There have been HPAI outbreaks of significance in South Africa in 2017 and 2021 of the N1 and H5N8 strains. This H5N8 strain has never been known to infect humans. The H5N1 has infected humans, but it is extremely rare to do so. In fact since 2003 there have only ever been 700 cases, and these were mostly in communities where people have closely cohabited with their infected poultry, and from the cultural consumption of raw chicken meat and even blood.

#StHelena #AvianFlu

17 October 2023

St Helena Government Communications Hub

Telephone: 22470