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Bird flu outbreak on Australian free-range egg farm

Authorities in the Australian state of Victoria have set up a buffer zone around a free-range egg farm after it tested positive for avian influenza.

Birds on the farm near Lethbridge tested positive for the high pathogenic H7N7 strain forcing Agriculture Victoria to put emergency plans into action.

A flock of free-range birds in Australia have been hit by highly pathogenic avian influenza. Photo: Mark Pasveer
A flock of free-range birds in Australia have been hit by highly pathogenic avian influenza. Photo: Mark Pasveer

Victoria’s Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Graeme Cooke said movement controls have been put in place for Golden Plains Shire. He also said a restricted area buffer zone has been established within a radius of 5 km from the infected premises which have also been placed under quarantine. Dr Cooke said: “These controls prohibit the movement of birds, related equipment and products within and out of, the designated control area of Golden Plains Shire unless a permit for movement has been granted by Agriculture Victoria until further notice.”

Cancellation of events

The department has called for all pigeon races, bird shows and bird sales in the Golden Plains Shire to be cancelled. “Poultry farmers, back yard 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,” he added.

Poultry owners urged to be vigilant

Dr Cooke also advises domestic bird and backyard chook owners in the control area to ensure all their birds are kept separate from all other birds. He urged flock owners to look out for the signs of the disease including sudden death; birds with difficulty breathing, such as coughing, sneezing, or rasping; swelling and purple discolouration of the head, comb, wattles and neck; rapid drop in eating, drinking and egg production; ruffled feathers, dopiness, closed eyes and diarrhoea.

In order to stop the spread of avian influenza, birds on the affected property are all being destroyed. Dr Cooke said: “Agriculture Victoria is conducting surveillance throughout the Restricted Area buffer zone to determine whether the virus is contained to the property or whether it may be active in other areas.” The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services confirmed 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. Workers and biosecurity officers at the affected property will take all necessary precautions, including wearing Protective Personal Equipment (PPE).

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No food safety issue

The department also stated that there are no food safety issues identified and that properly cooked chicken meat and eggs are safe to eat. Australia has previously experienced incursions of highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses which were successfully eradicated. Dr Cooke said this was a reminder to all bird owners, however many birds they have, to always practice good biosecurity, whether at home, sales, bird shows or race events; and especially taking small but important measures to discourage wild birds mixing with domestic birds, such as ensuring no access to the domestic birds food.