Avian influenza (bird flu)

Update – 4 September

Avian influenza has been confirmed at four farms near Lethbridge, one near Bairnsdale and one emu farm near Kerang.

There are three different strains of avian influenza across six farms in Victoria:

  • three eggs 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.

Victoria’s Chief Veterinary Officer has extended the Housing of Livestock clause (housing order) to 26 September 2020. All poultry owners within the Golden Plains Shire Restricted and Control Areas — even those with just two or three chickens or birds — are legally required to keep their birds enclosed.

An extension to the housing order is a necessary measure to help limit the spread to other farms and minimise the impact on Victoria’s poultry industry.

Restricted Areas and Control Areas have been put in place in the Golden Plains Shire near Lethbridge, near Bairnsdale and near Kerang.

Progress update

Agriculture Victoria has completed work on depopulating five poultry farms confirmed to have avian influenza.

Work is underway to thoroughly decontaminate these sites to ensure all remnants of the virus are eliminated.

Background to this response

A strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza (H7N7) virus was first detected at a free-range egg farm near Lethbridge on 31 July, with a second affected farm confirmed to have the virus on 6 August. A turkey farm was found to have the low pathogenic strain (H5N2) of avian influenza on 10 August.

Tracing investigations found a poultry farm near Bairnsdale positive for H5N2 low pathogenic avian influenza virus on 10 August 2020.

An emu farm near Kerang tested positive to low pathogenic H7N6 avian influenza on 25 August.

Movement controls remain in place prohibiting the movement of birds, equipment and products within and out of the designated Restricted and Control Area, except under permit issued by Agriculture Victoria (see maps below).

Surveillance

Agriculture Victoria has scaled up surveillance and tracing efforts to determine other at-risk properties and contain the risk.

Agriculture Victoria continues to sample birds throughout the Restricted Areas.

Report sick or dead birds in Golden Plains or near Bairnsdale to the 24-hour Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888 to help track and contain avian influenza.

Restricted and Control Area Orders and movement permits

A permit from Agriculture Victoria is required for the movement of domestic birds, bird products and equipment into, out of or within the Restricted Area or Control Areas within Golden Plains Shire, near Bairnsdale and near Kerang. The permit is for buying, selling or moving eggs, manure and chickens, whether on the side of the road, from your property, your local store, online (such as Gumtree or Facebook) or at markets. It is illegal to move these products without a permit.

Please apply online for movement permits for poultry, poultry products and vehicles involved in poultry production within the Restricted and Control Areas. An Agriculture Victoria staff member will contact you to progress the application.

Please see the relevant map and contact the Customer Contact Centre on (03) 4334 2715 (7 days between 9 am and 5 pm) for advice on a permit.

View the Restricted and Control Area Orders

Shaded area, approximately 5km in diameter, located to the west of Lethbridge.Shaded area extends from Geelong West, Inverleight and Wingeel, west to Cressy and Bradvale, north to Bittong, Smythesdale and Smythes Creek and east to Meredith, Steightz and Batesford.

Shaded area, 1km in diameter, located at EllaswoodShaded area, approximately 2km in diameter, located at Ellaswood

Kerang restriction areaKerang control area

All pigeon races, bird shows and bird sales in the Restricted and Control Areas must be cancelled.

The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services confirmed the H7N7, and H7N6 and H5N2 strains are not a risk to the public as they rarely affect humans unless there is direct and close contact with sick birds. There are no food safety issues identified; properly cooked chicken meat and eggs are safe to eat.

For further information visit disease information advice — avian flu.

If you have had contact with birds on an affected property and you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, call your doctor or the Department of Health and Human Services on  1300 651 160 for medical advice.

More information for:

Poultry farmers, and backyard flock and bird owners are urged to report any cases of unexplained bird deaths to the 24-hour Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888, to your local vet or to Agriculture Victoria animal health staff.

What is Avian Influenza?

Avian influenza (AI), commonly referred to as ‘bird flu’, is a highly contagious viral infection of birds. Serious forms of the disease can cause severe symptoms and sudden death in domestic poultry (up to 100 per cent of birds). Mild strains of the disease cause few or no symptoms in poultry and may go undetected in some species of birds, though can result in some deaths.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms associated with AI can include: sudden death, respiratory distress, swelling of the head, purple discolouration of the comb and wattles, coughing, sneezing, rasping breathing, rapid decrease in feed and water intake, decreased egg production, ruffled feathers, depression, closed eyes, diarrhoea and occasionally nervous signs.

How is the virus spread?

Wild birds are considered the natural host for AI and it is often carried without showing any symptoms of the disease. Sometimes the disease spills over into domestic poultry populations. Infected birds shed the virus in saliva, nasal secretions and faeces. The exposure of wild birds to domestic birds, particularly poultry, or to their feed or water supply, can lead to the emergence of AI.

What species are affected?

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

Can the virus spread to humans?

Avian influenza is rarely spread from birds to people. Humans that do become infected usually experience mild flu-like symptoms. On the rare occasions when people have become infected from birds, the AI virus does not appear to be readily transmitted to other people.

People cannot be infected by eating cooked chicken meat or eggs.

What are the human symptoms of AI?

The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services confirmed the H7N7, and H7N6 and H5N2 strains are not a risk to the public as they rarely affect humans unless there is direct and close contact with sick birds. There are no food safety issues identified; properly cooked chicken meat and eggs are safe to eat.

If you have had contact with birds on an affected property and you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, call your doctor or the Department of Health and Human Services on 1300 651 160 for medical advice.

What do I need to do?

All bird owners, particularly those living in the current Restricted and Control Areas, need to be vigilant for any signs of AI in their flocks. Owners of backyard poultry or free-range poultry should be especially cautious as they are more likely to be exposed to wild birds. Owners should report any unexplained sick or dead birds to the Emergency Animal Disease Hotline 1800 675 888.

What to do if you suspect AI

AI is a notifiable disease. This means that legally you must tell us if you know of or suspect the presence of AI in any birds. You can do this by calling one of the following:

  • an Animal Health Officer or District Veterinary Officer at Agriculture Victoria on (03) 4334 2715, (9 am – 5 pm)
  • the all-hours Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888.

Regularly check your birds and immediately report any unusual signs of disease to our staff or your local vet.

Risk to Australia

There have been occasional outbreaks of internationally notifiable HPAI and LPAI on poultry farms in Australia.

On each occasion the outbreak was quickly detected and stamped out, and only a small number of farms were affected.

Annual migration of wild birds has the ongoing potential to introduce new subtypes of AI virus to Australian birds. There is always a need for sound biosecurity to prevent wild bird exposure to domestic poultry and ongoing vigilance to facilitate rapid response should an outbreak of LPAI or HPAI occur.

Preventing AI

To minimise the risk of AI outbreaks in domestic birds, prevent contact between poultry and wild waterfowl and their droppings.

Poultry producers and bird-keepers should implement the following minimum biosecurity measures:

  • bird-proof housing and feed storage areas
  • prevent access by domestic poultry to surface water that may have been contaminated by wild waterfowl (such as ponds, lakes, creeks, channels, dams, puddles and water troughs) or only using a chlorinated (2 to 3 PPM) water source
  • restrict access of people to bird areas
  • ensure visitors are only permitted to enter bird areas after donning protective clothing and going through a foot bath containing a viricidal agent effective in the presence of organic matter.

Other helpful biosecurity measures include:

  • source birds directly from a reputable breeder or producer, rather than from a market or place where birds have been gathered from many sources
  • inspect and clean bird areas at least once a week
  • clean and disinfect feed containers regularly
  • don't share equipment with other bird-keepers unless it's been cleaned and disinfected
  • remove sand and grit from the aviary between batches of birds, and every few months for resident birds
  • clean concrete floors, walls and aviary wire thoroughly, and scrub down with detergent.

Preventing wild bird access is relatively straightforward when birds are enclosed in poultry houses but may be difficult where birds range freely over open areas.

Disinfectants effective against AI

Following good biosecurity practices and hygiene is essential to protecting poultry and people from avian influenza (AI). To be effective against the AI virus, the following two-step process is recommended.

Step 1: Clean poultry housing, boots and equipment thoroughly to remove any organic matter (e.g. soil, mud, faeces) using water (preferably hot) and detergent.

Step 2: Apply a chemical disinfectant to cleaned surfaces and leave it on for the required contact time to destroy the virus. Contact times will vary between chemicals and different surfaces i.e. porous surfaces (wood) vs non-porous surfaces (metal).

Whichever product you choose to use must be used as directed by the manufacturer.

Remember that chemicals may be toxic to poultry (and other animals), even in very small doses.  Care should be taken to determine the safety of disinfectants prior to using them near poultry, and they should always be stored well away from poultry houses. If using a footbath at the entrance of a poultry enclosure, place it outside the enclosure, in an area where other animals (including pets) cannot access and drink from it.

Decontamination of vehicles, animal housing and equipment

If vehicles, livestock trucks and trailers, animal yards and equipment need to be decontaminated, the following two-step cleaning and disinfection process should also be used.

Step 1: Remove all visible organic matter (e.g. faeces, urine, dirt, mud) by washing the surface with water under pressure. When using a cleaning agent/detergent, follow the manufacturer’s instructions, in particular the right concentration of cleaning agent/detergent for the amount of soiling/organic matter present. Also, follow personal protective equipment (PPE) recommendations of the manufacturer.

Step 2: Apply an effective disinfectant, as directed by the manufacturer. It is wise to ensure that the disinfectant being used will not damage the product being cleaned (e.g. is not corrosive at the dilution rate being used). Follow all safety recommendations of the manufacturer.

For advice on chemicals effective against AI virus and their safe use around poultry, contact your veterinarian or the product manufacturer.

Minimising risk 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 quarantine period before they're reintroduced to the home flock — while 21 days is sufficient for AI, a period of 6 weeks might be preferable as a general disease precaution
  • keep records of bird movements to assist traceback in the event of a disease outbreak
  • don't display waterfowl in pavilions or areas that house poultry, pigeons or other birds
  • consider having a veterinarian present or contactable on show days.

Clinical signs to look out for

The clinical signs of AI infection are variable and influenced greatly by:

  • the virulence of the viruses involved
  • the species affected
  • age
  • concurrent bacterial disease
  • the environment.

Signs of LPAI

Clinical signs range from inapparent to mild or severe and can include:

  • respiratory distress (can be confused with infectious laryngotracheitis)
  • coughing, sneezing or rasping respiration
  • rapid drop in feed intake, water intake and egg production
  • typical 'sick bird' signs — for example, ruffled feathers, dopiness and closed eyes
  • death of small proportions of the chicken flocks of 3% to 15%.

Signs of HPAI

HPAI should be considered as a possible cause if a high proportion of a flock or group of birds become ill very quickly, progressing from normal to gravely ill or dead within 24 to 48 hours.

Clinical signs may include:

  • sudden death
  • respiratory distress
  • swelling and purple discolouration of the head, comb, wattles and neck
  • coughing, sneezing or rasping respiration
  • rapid drop in feed intake, water intake and egg production
  • typical 'sick bird' signs — for example, ruffled feathers, dopiness and closed eyes
  • diarrhoea
  • occasionally, nervous symptoms.

Differential diagnoses include acute fowl cholera, respiratory disease complex and other exotic diseases such as Newcastle disease.

Australian response to HPAI

State and Commonwealth governments and the national chicken meat and egg industries have formally agreed to share the costs of responding to an outbreak of LPAI or HPAI. This helps to ensure that a rapid and effective emergency response can be immediately mounted if the disease occurs.

Owners may be eligible for compensation if birds or property must be destroyed to eradicate the disease.

Procedures generally include:

  • slaughter out of infected and in-contact poultry
  • decontamination
  • strict quarantine
  • movement controls to prevent spread of infection
  • tracing and surveillance to locate the extent of infection.

Vaccination might be an option in some circumstances.

Wild bird surveillance program

A Wild Bird Surveillance program is in place across Australia, supported by Wildlife Health Australia.

Report an unusual sign of disease or death in wild birds.

More information

Page last updated: 04 Sep 2020