Avian influenza in Victoria

Current situation

The response to avian influenza in Victoria is continuing. There have been no further detections of the virus at this stage.

Between 31 July and 25 August 2020 there were three different strains of avian influenza detected across six infected farms in Victoria. 

  • There are three egg farms with highly pathogenic H7N7 avian influenza.
  • Two turkey farms with low pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza.
  • One emu farm diagnosed with low pathogenic H7N6 avian influenza.

When avian influenza outbreaks occur in production birds, it is not unusual for more than one farm to become infected. However, it is unusual to see three strains, both highly pathogenic and low pathogenic, occur at the same time.

Australia has previously had outbreaks of both low pathogenic and highly pathogenic avian influenza. These were all quickly and successfully eradicated.

Response activities

Poultry

The three infected egg farms in the Lethbridge Restricted Area have been de-populated, with the disposal and decontamination activities now nearing completion.

The two turkey farms with low pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza have been de-populated and disposal activities have been completed. Decontamination of the Bairnsdale farm has been completed, with the farm in the Golden Plains shire nearing completion.

Agriculture Victoria will continue to sample and test sick or dead birds in the restricted and control areas to ensure any new cases of high pathogenic or low pathogenic avian influenza are quickly identified.

Emu farm

Under the nationally agreed response plan, Agriculture Victoria has depopulated the youngest birds on the infected emu farm. Disposal and decontamination activities have also been completed. 

Comprehensive surveillance and biosecurity management plans have been developed for the farm’s remaining birds. This includes 2 year-old production birds and a separate mob of older birds which are used for breeding.  These birds are located in separate areas on the farm, and have always been separated from the young birds which were the only ones to contract the virus.

The response plan allows for delayed processing of the 2 year old birds, while the older birds will remain on the property. This is provided that avian influenza is not detected in any of the remaining birds.

The decision to retain the two older mobs of emus was endorsed by the National Management Group, in accordance with AUSVETPLAN, which makes an allowance for rare and genetically valuable animals.

AUSVETPLANguides the response activities on-farm and provides for an effective and efficient response.

Restrictions

The boundary for the Lethbridge Restricted Area remains in place, however the Control Area has been reduced in size. Maps showing the new Restricted and Control Area Orders are available on the Agriculture Victoria website.

In a Restricted Area and Control Area, birds, products or equipment cannot move into or out of the area without a permit.

How to protect your birds from disease

Regardless of whether you are a commercial producer or you only keep a few chickens in your backyard, you need to adopt simple biosecurity practices to protect your birds from disease.

  • Restrict contact between your birds and wild birds. Contact with wild birds can be minimised by making the free range environment less attractive to them, for example, place feeders and water sources inside sheds, rather than in the open where wild birds will have easier access. Using fencing or netting for free-ranging birds, are other options.
  • Your birds should drink the same water as you — town, bore or tank water. Keep them away from potentially contaminated water sources such as streams, dams, ponds and even puddles.
  • Keep poultry sheds, yards and aviaries clean, including equipment. Clean thoroughly with a detergent before applying a disinfectant.
  • Frequently change nesting materials.
  • Quarantine new birds for 14 days before introducing them to the resident flock.
  • Limit visitors to your birds. Check if essential visitors have recently visited other premises where poultry is kept.
  • If you are selling or giving away eggs, use new cartons if possible or keep reused cartons clean and away from birds.
  • If you attend bird shows do not allow your birds to mix directly with others. Then, keep them separate from the rest of your flock for 14 days when you return home.
  • Always wash your hands before and after handling birds and eggs.
  • Poultry farmers should change into clean footwear before entering poultry houses or hen facilities, to stop the potential transfer of disease from outside.

Poultry and egg industry resources

Best practice farm hygiene and biosecurity practices are adopted in the Australian poultry industry and are standard practice. National biosecurity manuals outline these measures and are available at farmbiosecurity.com.au

Pre-emptive culling of wild birds is not an appropriate response to these incidents, as it is not known to have any impact on the spread of the disease.

Report sick and dead birds

If you notice a number of sick or dead birds (domestic or wild), contact the national Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888.

Human health

Avian influenza virus is not a risk to the public as it rarely affects humans unless there is direct and close contact with sick birds.

Eggs and chicken meat are safe to eat provided they are handled and cooked as per standard food handling practices.

These outbreaks are in no way related to the current Covid-19 pandemic or avian influenza strains overseas that have gained attention.

Avian influenza and wild birds

It is not unusual for avian influenza to be detected in wild birds in Australia. On rare occasions there is virus spill over from the wild bird population into domestic poultry.

Wild birds can carry differing types of avian influenza without showing symptoms.

About Avian influenza

AI is a serious disease of poultry and occurs worldwide.

AI virus strains are usually classified into two categories according to the severity of disease in poultry. Highly pathogenic strains can cause severe clinical signs and potentially high death rates among poultry. Low pathogenic strains typically cause few or reduced clinical signs in comparison. Chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, guinea fowl, quail, pheasants, emus and ostriches are included in the more than 140 species that are susceptible to AI. Many species of wild birds, including waterfowl and seabirds can also carry the virus.

The virus is mostly spread by wild birds, particularly ducks, contaminating food or water supplies. For this reason, the disease remains a constant biosecurity threat.

Avian influenza can also spread by the movement of eggs, birds, people, vehicles and equipment between farms, and by clothing, footwear, aerosols, water, feed, litter, biting insects and vermin.

Read more about AI on the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment website.

International trade/exports

There has been some disruption in trade to a number of countries that require certification that Australia or Victoria are free from avian influenza.

Due to this incident, the Australian Government is currently unable to certify exports to some countries for:

  • certain poultry and other live birds
  • poultry products
  • eggs
  • animal reproductive material, and
  • animal by-products.

When a country is notified of a change to the animal health status of an exporting country, the importing country may seek further information regarding management activities and choose to put temporary trade suspensions or restrictions in place while they assess this information.

It is possible that trade to these countries can continue during this period or resume after the temporary suspension.

The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment is working closely with industry, relevant trading partners and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to restore trade access to these affected markets as soon as possible.

Exporters requiring further information should contact a regional office of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.

More information