Avian influenza information for backyard poultry owners

Current situation

Last updated 19 July

Agriculture Victoria is responding to the detection of avian influenza at 8 Victorian poultry farms. Avian influenza is a viral disease of birds found globally. Virus strains are described as low pathogenicity (LPAI) or high pathogenicity (HPAI).

Seven infected properties close to Meredith have been infected with a dangerous strain of avian influenza called H7N3. A property near Terang has become infected with a highly contagious strain called H7N9.

A comprehensive surveillance program is in place in the restricted and control areas in order to detect the viruses. Finding infected properties shows the program is effective at detecting infections. Early detection helps to stop disease spreading beyond restricted areas.

Restricted and control areas surround all infected premises. They are in the Golden Plains and Corangamite shires.

We have placed all properties in quarantine and have safely and humanely disposed of all poultry. We are in the process of cleaning and clearing the sites of infection.

Agriculture Victoria staff are on the ground supporting the affected properties. They are working closely with poultry owners and industry to contain and kill the virus. Tracing is also underway to determine the source and spread of the infection.

Avian influenza (also known as bird flu or fowl plague) is a highly infectious disease affecting many bird species including pet and farmed chickens and can result in significant deaths on poultry farms.

Since 2021, a new strain named highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 clade 2.3.4.4.b has spread rapidly across several continents, causing mass mortalities in wild birds and poultry. It has also caused death in some terrestrial and marine mammal populations. This new strain has never been detected in Australia but is now established in many countries worldwide.

Good biosecurity is the key to protecting your backyard poultry against avian influenza as treatment or vaccines are not available in Australia.

Affected species

Domestic poultry, ducks, geese, turkeys, guinea fowl, quail, pheasants, emus and ostriches are most susceptible to avian influenza. Many species of wild birds, including waterfowl and seabirds can carry the avian influenza virus but usually show no signs of disease.

HPAI H5N1 clade 2.3.4.4b:

All bird species are thought to be susceptible to HPAI H5N1 clade 2.3.4.4b, and it has been detected in over 50 species of mammals.

Effects on pet birds

Avian influenza in pet birds such as budgies, canaries and other caged birds has not been a feature of previous outbreaks in Australia. However, all species of birds are thought to be susceptible to HPAI H5N1. Keeping birds under cover and separate from wild birds will help protect them from HPAI H5N1.

Signs of avian influenza

The first sign of avian influenza may be the sudden death of some of the poultry. Other signs include:

  • decreased appetite
  • decreased egg production
  • ruffled feathers
  • decreased activity
  • birds having trouble breathing
  • swelling around the head or conjunctivitis.

For more information go to Avian Influenza factsheet

Steps you need to take

All bird owners need to be vigilant for any signs of avian influenza in their flocks.

Owners of backyard poultry or free-range poultry should be especially cautious as they are more likely to be exposed to avian influenza infected wild birds.

Owners must report any unexplained sick or dead birds to the VicEmergency Hotline on 1800 226 226.

Protecting your birds from avian influenza

Implement good biosecurity measures to prevent wild birds from gaining access to the same food and water supplies as your poultry.

This may include:

  • preventing domesticated poultry from accessing open ponds, lakes, creeks or other watercourses used by wild birds
  • separating poultry and their food and water from wild birds (e.g. by using netting)
  • make poultry enclosures wild bird and rodent-proof.
  • storing litter and feed securely to avoid contamination by wild birds
  • practising good hygiene at all times
  • maintaining facilities (e.g. poultry sheds/coops) to ensure safe and hygienic containment.
  • quarantining new birds or birds returning from a bird show until comfortable they are disease-free (min 14 days)
  • purchasing poultry and birds, litter and feed from accredited sources
  • not permitting visitors access to areas where poultry are kept
  • using good biosecurity practices between and within properties-clean your boots, vehicles and equipment before entering areas where poultry are kept.

Water supplied to poultry should not originate from sources where wild birds frequent. The following water sources are less likely to be contaminated:

  • treated (chlorinated) mains water
  • bore water that has been tested and is suitable quality for poultry; poultry have a low tolerance to saline water.

Talk to your veterinary practitioner if you need further advice about biosecurity measures for your backyard poultry.

If you suspect avian influenza

Bird owners should be vigilant for signs of disease, especially where multiple deaths occur in poultry, or many birds are unwell.

Avian influenza is a notifiable disease.

Suspicion of infection MUST be reported to Agriculture Victoria on the VicEmergency hotline on 1800 226 226.

Are my eggs safe to eat?

No food safety issues have been identified – properly cooked chicken meat and eggs are safe to eat.

Giving eggs to family or friends

If you are giving eggs to family and friends, please keep a record of who you are giving them to and the date. You should also:

  • use new cartons if possible or keep reused cartons away from your birds
  • clean your chicken coop regularly and collect eggs daily
  • discard any cracked or heavily soiled eggs and clean dirt off others with a soft cloth
  • keep your eggs in the refrigerator and cook them thoroughly.

Privately selling eggs

You can sell eggs for human consumption, provided you comply with the Victorian Food Act 1984 and national Primary Production and Processing Standard for Eggs and Egg Product (the Standard) and all other obligations.

During an outbreak of avian influenza in Victoria, you will need to follow the instructions provided by Agriculture Victoria regarding sale of eggs in your region.

Keeping poultry safe at bird shows

While bird shows are a great opportunity for breeders and exhibitors to showcase breeds and compete for coveted titles, there's some risk of disease spread because of close contact among birds and handlers from different locations.

Basic and effective biosecurity measures at bird shows to help prevent the spread of diseases include:

  • don't introduce any birds to the show if there's illness in the home flock
  • clean and disinfect all bird equipment, cages and containers before and after shows
  • judges and handlers should disinfect hands between birds where possible, while exhibitors should only handle their own birds
  • ensure that show birds undergo a 14-day quarantine period before they're reintroduced to the home flock
  • keep records of bird movements to assist traceback in the event of a disease outbreak.

More information

See Keeping backyard poultry for more information on keeping your chickens safe from disease and what to do if you suspect disease.

Page last updated: 14 Jun 2024