Avian influenza H7N7 in Victoria

Current situation

Agriculture Victoria is responding to an outbreak of Avian influenza H7N7 at a free-range egg farm, at Lethbridge in Victoria.

Avian influenza is a serious disease of poultry, and can cause a high mortality rate in production birds.

This disease was reported when a drop in egg production was observed, and high bird mortality rates occurred in one of the poultry sheds.

Samples were submitted to Agriculture Victoria on 29 July 2020 where they tested positive for Avian influenza H7. The CSIRO’s Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness confirmed the disease as highly pathogenic avian influenza H7N7 on 31 July.

The property has been quarantined and movement controls are in place to stop any birds, eggs and equipment from leaving the premises. A Restricted Area is in place around the property, and a Control Area across a wider area has also been created.

Agriculture Victoria will be in contact with property owners in the vicinity of the infected property, and will conduct further surveillance and sampling of domestic birds in this area.

See further details on the Agriculture Victoria website.

The Consultative Committee on Emergency Animal Diseases met on 31 July 2020 and discussed the response plan put forward by Agriculture Victoria. The committee agreed that the disease is technically feasible to eradicate, and this recommendation was put to the National Management Group (NMG) on 1 August.  NMG endorsed this recommendation and Victoria’s response plan for this incident.

The premises will be depopulated in line with the Avian Influenza AUSVETPLAN, and this is due to commence on 1 August.

Australia has previously had a small number of outbreaks of H7 Avian Influenza which were all quickly and successfully eradicated.

Human health

The H7N7 virus is not a risk to the public as it rarely affects humans unless there is direct and close contact with sick birds. This is not the highly pathogenic influenza H5N1 or H1N1 strains that have gained worldwide attention — nor is it closely related to those strains. It is in no way related to the current Covid-19 pandemic.

Avian influenza and wild birds

There has been no evidence of Avian influenza in wild birds in recent Victorian surveys. It is not unusual, however, for avian influenza to be detected in wild birds in Australia. Wild birds can carry the virus without showing any signs of infection.

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 biosecurity practices in place 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.
  • Keep poultry sheds, yards and aviaries clean, including equipment. Clean thoroughly with a detergent before applying a disinfectant.
  • Quarantine new birds 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 attend bird shows, always practice good hygiene.
  • 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.

For more information on how to protect your birds, visit the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment website.

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 this incident, 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, contact the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888. If you discover large numbers of sick or dead wild birds, you also need to report this to the hotline so it can be investigated.

About Avian influenza

Avian Influenza is a viral disease of birds which occurs worldwide. There are many strains of AI virus that cause infections of different severity. These range from low pathogenic or mild, to highly pathogenic strains that are associated with severe disease and high mortality in poultry. H7 strains can be highly pathogenic.

Chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, guinea fowl, quail, pheasants 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.

Migratory birds, predominantly shore birds and waders from nearby countries in South East Asia, can pose a risk if they harbour AI infection and then mingle with, and transmit this infection to waterfowl that are nomadic within Australia. These nomadic birds can then mingle with and spread the infection to domestic birds such as poultry.

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 Avian influenza on the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment website.

Trade/exports

There has been some disruption in trade to a small 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