Avian influenza in poultry

Agriculture Victoria is currently responding to an outbreak of avian influenza (AI) H7N7 at a free-range egg farm near Geelong.

AI is a highly contagious, viral disease of birds that can cause high mortalities in chickens.

All commercial, domestic and wild bird species are susceptible to infection, but disease outbreaks occur more frequently in chickens and turkeys. Many species of wild birds, including waterfowl (geese, ducks and swans) and seabirds, can carry the AI virus but generally show no signs of the disease.  There are no treatments available for AI in birds.

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.  The Victorian outbreak is not the highly pathogenic influenza H5N1 or H1N1 strains that have gained worldwide attention — nor is it closely related to those strains.

It is in no way related to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

There is no current risk to Tasmania however, those who keep poultry are asked to be aware of the symptoms of AI and seek immediate veterinary advice if any of their birds become sick or die suddenly. 

The clinical signs of AI can look similar to other poultry diseases. In general, the signs include breathing difficulties, watery eyes, bluish colouring in the comb, wattle or legs, swelling of the head, diarrhoea, nervous signs and rapid drop in water/feed intake and egg production. Bird deaths typically occur within 48 hours of infection and sometimes less than 24 hours.

In addition, poultry owners are encouraged to adopt simple biosecurity measures to prevent wild birds from gaining access to and contaminating the food and water supply of their birds with droppings. This will help protect the birds from a range of diseases, not just AI.

It is strongly recommended that drinking water supplied to birds should be either:

  • treated (chlorinated) mains water, or;
  • high quality bore water, or;
  • water treated with chlorine from other sources.

Suspected cases of AI should be reported by calling the national Emergency Animal Disease Watch hotline on 1800 675 888.  This can also be done by your veterinarian who must report any suspicion or confirmed test results.

Further information on AI, including a biosecurity checklist for bird keepers, can be found on the Biosecurity Tasmania website.

Further information on the AI response in Victoria can be found on the Outbreak website.

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