Farmers, authorities on bird flu alert as culling of 400,000 chickens begins

Authorities and farmers are on alert, as the strain of bird flu found at a Victorian farm has been confirmed, while another unrelated strain of avian influenza has been detected in Western Australia.

May 23, 2024, updated May 23, 2024
The growth in backyard chicken pens amid lockdown has caused an outbreak of the bacterial infection. Photo: ABC

The growth in backyard chicken pens amid lockdown has caused an outbreak of the bacterial infection. Photo: ABC

Mass culling of 400,000 chickens is continuing on the Meredith farm, about 40km northwest of Geelong, after a number of poultry died from the virus.

‘The strain of the virus detected near Meredith is H7N3, which is different from the H5N1 avian influenza strain that’s impacting the USA and other parts of the world,” Victoria’s Chief Veterinarian Graeme Cooke said.

“While cases among humans in direct contact with animals infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses are possible, the current risk to the public remains low.”

A quarantine area has been set up around the farm and extra biosecurity measures are in place.

In WA, biosecurity measures have been tightened on a poultry farm in the state’s southwest after an unrelated strain of avian influenza was found.

Authorities say the WA detection is a low path H9N2 strain and not connected to the Victorian outbreak.

“H9 strains of avian influenza are known to occur in wild bird populations in Australia and have previously been detected in WA,” the state’s acting chief vet Katie Webb said.

“The property is currently under a pest control notice to manage the movement of relevant animals and products off the property.”

On Wednesday, a child was confirmed as Australia’s first human case of a lethal strain of avian influenza spreading around the world.

The child, who returned to Victoria from India in March, experienced a “severe infection” after contracting the H5N1 strain but has made a full recovery, Victoria’s chief health officer Clare Looker confirmed.

Authorities say contact tracing has not identified any further cases.

The Victorian detection of avian influenza has put egg farmers on high alert across Australia.

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“Any biosecurity outbreak becomes concerning to us as farmers,” egg farmer and Victorian Farmers Federation vice-president Danyel Cucinotta told AAP.

Ms Cucinotta said Australia’s poultry industry faced a recurring risk of avian influenza.

“We are on a wild bird flight path, especially from Southeast Asia, and that just means we’re at a higher risk all the time,” she said.

The Victorian egg farmer said producers were taking extra precautions.

“Anything coming into the farm, such as trucks, could bring in disease. It could be people. It could be packaging, it could be pellets,” she said.

Avian influenza is a highly contagious viral infection which can cause severe symptoms and sudden death in domestic poultry, wiping out entire populations.

Wild birds are the natural host for the disease and it can spread through close contact or contaminated environments.

Authorities have reassured the public that eggs and poultry products in supermarkets do not pose a risk and are safe to consume.

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