New lab speeds up H5N2 tests

Ostrich farmers in the Klein Karoo will be able to get faster test results for the H5N2 virus.

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Ostrich farmers in the Klein Karoo will be able to get faster test results for the H5N2 (avian influenza) virus after biotechnology company Deltamune opened a R3 million laboratory in Oudtshoorn.

Since the outbreak of the H5N2 virus in April this year, about 37 000 birds have been culled in Western and Eastern Cape, and the industry has lost some R108 million a month due to an export ban on ostrich meat. Restrictions on the movement of birds further crippled the industry.

According to Dr Hannes Swart, CEO of Deltamune, the new facility will speed up the testing process, meaning farmers can respond more quickly to cases of the disease. “We can have the results of blood tests in three working days, where farmers in the past had to wait three weeks,” said Dr Swart.

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He said the lab will use an extensive polymerase chain reaction test (PCR), to determine the origin of the virus from its genetic material. This will help the industry curb the spread of the virus and help prevent future outbreaks. It has been suggested that ostriches caught the virus from wild birds or waterfowl, but this has not been confirmed.

“If we can confirm that waterfowl, such as ducks and geese, were responsible for the outbreak, then the industry will be able to advise producers not to keep ostriches close to marshland areas,” explained Dr Swart. “Quicker testing will lead to faster results so that ostriches that are found to be infected can immediately be slaughtered,” he added. – Denene Erasmus

The new Deltamune laboratory in Oudtshoorn will give ostrich farmers faster access to test results for the H5N2 virus.