Avian influenza, also known as bird flu, is a highly contagious viral disease of birds. While it rarely infects humans, an outbreak in commercial flocks can be devastating for producers and Australia’s egg and chicken meat industries.
In July and August 2020, 3 different strains of avian influenza were detected in Victoria across 6 infected farms. It is likely a mild form of the virus circulating in wild birds, mutated when it transferred to the domestic flocks.
To keep your birds safe from the virus, regardless of whether you are a commercial producer or only keep a couple of chickens in your backyard, you must adopt a few, simple biosecurity practices.
Dr Mark Schipp, the Australian Chief Veterinarian Officer, said there are a number of things you can do.
“Make the environment your birds range in less attractive to wild birds. For example, place feeders and water sources inside sheds rather than in the open. Also, use fencing or netting to keep wild birds from interacting with your free-range birds,” Dr Schipp said.
“Another step you can take is to keep your sheds, yards and aviaries clean. Change nesting materials regularly and routinely wash and disinfect your equipment. If you have reusable egg cartons, always keep them clean and stored away from birds,” he said.
Implementing quarantine practices can also help keep your resident flock healthy.
“Isolate new birds for 14 days, before introducing them to your flock”. Dr Schipp said. “If you attend bird shows, don’t allow your birds to mingle with others, and when you return home quarantine them before re-introducing them”.
“Finally, check if visitors to your property have been to any other premises where poultry is kept. Make sure you and your visitors wash hands after handling birds and eggs,” he said.
Birds that are infected with the virus may exhibit a range of severe symptoms including difficulty breathing, diarrhoea, swelling of the head or sudden death.
If you notice sick or dead birds (domestic or wild), contact the national Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888.
For more information about avian influenza and the current disease response, visit the Agriculture Victoria website.
To find out more about the disease in humans visit the Department of Health website.