Affected animals to be slaughtered, but no threat to people at this point
Ten farms spread across Nelson Mandela Bay and the Sarah Baartman district municipality have tested positive for brucellosis, an infectious disease in animals that can also affect people through the handling or consumption of raw meat or unpasteurised milk.
The farms are under quarantine and the affected animals will be slaughtered.
The National Animal Health Forum (NAHF) said it had been notified of the positive brucellosis tests only on Tuesday night and was still gathering information.
Nelson Mandela Bay councillor Andrew Whitfield, who heads up the metro’s agriculture portfolio, said this was the first he had heard of it.
“We have not received any information about quarantined farms, but we will look into the matter urgently,” he said.
“We will also be in contact with the Department of Public Health so that it is made aware of the situation.”
Eastern Cape NAHF coordinator Sunette Botha-Du Toit said the disease had probably come from recently acquired animals.
“Chances are a farmer bought an infected bull or cow from another province without knowing it, and only picked [the disease] up when he did his round of testing,” she said.
“At this point, these are isolated incidents, not an outbreak, and we need to take extra precautions to keep it contained.”
Botha-Du Toit said once they had more information about the reported brucellosis cases they would communicate with the relevant stakeholders, including the Department of Agriculture, the Red Meat Producers’ Organisation, the National Wool Growers’ Association and Milk SA.
Two farms in the Chris Hani district and one in the Amathole district have also tested positive for the disease and state veterinarians moved quickly yesterday to allay fears of a full-fledged outbreak.
Eastern Cape Veterinary Services director Dr Lubabalo Mrwebi said they were not overly concerned about a full-scale outbreak or any danger to people at this stage.
“We have identified the individual farms and they have been placed under quarantine,” he said. “From here on, their [uninfected] animals will be treated with extreme caution and regular testing will be done until these farms are declared clear and safe.
“At this stage, there is no need for serious concern.”
Brucellosis is caused by brucella bacteria and can be found in animals and people.
It can be transmitted by eating contaminated meat or drinking unsafe milk, and people working with raw animal products, for example butchers, can be infected by working with contaminated meat.
The symptoms in people are similar to flu and can be treated with antibiotics.
However, it is highly contagious in animals and affects their nervous system.
There is no treatment for infected animals, which have to be slaughtered at an abattoir under strictly controlled conditions.
Mrwebi said the affected farms would be monitored to ensure the animals remained in quarantine.
Brucellosis testing is done in three-year cycles, and all farms must take blood samples and send them to state laboratories for testing.
“Once an animal on a farm tests positive, that farm is placed under quarantine,” Mrwebi said.
“No animals are allowed to be moved to or from that farm. “The infected animals are taken away and the remaining animals undergo tests every six months.
“Only once a farm has had at least two consecutive negative tests will the quarantine be lifted.”
This means a farm must stay under quarantine for at least a year, but extreme cases have been recorded where farms have only been cleared in six years.
Mrwebi said infected animals were loaded onto a truck under the supervision of a state vet, who sealed the truck.
On arrival at the abattoir, another vet unsealed it. Special precautions were also taken during the slaughtering process.
“Once slaughtered, their meat undergoes further testing and special storage processes, apart from so-called clean meat.
“If the meat is declared safe, it holds no risk for people and can be consumed.”
Mrwebi said cases in the Eastern Cape were mostly recorded on dairy farms, but once milk had been pasteurised, it posed no threat to people.