Frequently asked questions
What is avian influenza or bird flu?
Avian influenza (AI) is a highly contagious viral infection of birds. It is also known as 'bird flu'. Some avian influenza viruses, called ‘highly pathogenic avian influenza’ (HPAI) viruses, can cause sudden, high mortality (up to 100 per cent) in domestic fowl (chickens) and turkeys.
The H5N1 HPAI strain of the virus has spread from Asia to the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Africa, and is of high concern to Australia.
What species of birds are susceptible to the virus?
Avian influenza can infect a wide range of birds including, ducks, geese, ibis, swans, chickens, turkeys, pheasants, partridges, quail, pigeons, guinea fowl and ostriches.
How do I know if a bird has avian influenza?
The disease can be recognised in birds such as chickens. Clinical signs are variable but commonly they include a sudden drop in egg production, loss of appetite, diarrhoea and death. The signs vary depending on the strain of the virus and the age and species of the birds infected.
AI can infect a wide range of birds including ducks, geese, ibis, swans, chickens, turkeys, pheasants, partridges, quail, pigeons, guinea fowl and ostriches. Signs of the disease vary but can include a sudden drop in egg production, loss of appetite, respiratory disease, diarrhoea and death. The signs vary depending on the strain of the virus and the age and species of the birds infected.
Many species of wild birds, especially waterfowl, can carry the virus but generally show no signs of disease. Australia does not have migratory waterfowl with known flyways. The risk of waterfowl catching AI is posed when they mingle with shore birds and waders that come to Australia from Asia.
How does it affect humans?
The H5N1 HPAI can infect humans who come in very close contact with infected birds or their excrement. The virus can survive in bird excrement for over a month and can survive in water for many days, if not weeks, depending on temperature. People do not get infected with AI through eating cooked chicken meat and eggs. It is important to know that freezing poultry does not kill the virus.
Clinical signs and symptoms of AI in humans include fever, sore throat, respiratory distress, pneumonia and in some cases death.
Does Australia have avian influenza?
Australia is currently free of HPAI. There have been five outbreaks of HPAI in commercial poultry previously in Australia. All were the H7 subtype of the virus and unrelated to H5N1 HPAI. All five outbreaks were successfully contained and eradicated with the last case being in 1997 at Tamworth in NSW. There were no known cases of human infection.
Although H5N1 HPAI has never been detected in wild birds in Australia, several subtypes of low pathogenic avian influenza are known to circulate at low levels in waterfowl and shorebird species. These viruses are not believed to cause clinical signs of disease in wild birds. However, it is important for recreational shooters, bush walkers and others such as poultry owners to be vigilant and report any unusual signs of the disease in birds immediately.
People who own domestic or commercial birds must also play their part by maintaining strict biosecurity measures - this includes keeping wild birds away from feed and water supplies as well as adopting good hygiene such as disinfection.
What should I do if I see something unusual in wild birds?
If you come across a large number of dead birds or any other circumstances that look unusual , you should not handle the birds without the proper personal protection equipment. You should then take immediate action. Telephone the national Emergency Animal Disease Hotline on 1800 675 888 . Alternatively, contact the Department of Primary Industries or Agriculture in your state or territory or tell your local veterinarian.
Remember, a quick response to a disease outbreak is our best chance of containing and eradicating it. No matter how insignificant your find is, be safe rather than sorry and report it!
Are there precautions I can take to protect myself from being infected?
Yes. It is recommended that if handling wild birds, you practise good hygiene.
There is a range of information on personal protection equipment information on the Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA) website.
Duck shooters have an important role in detecting and reporting diseases in wild birds!
HPAI is a threat to human and animal health in Australia. As recently seen throughout Asia, India and Eastern Europe, the H5N1 strain of the disease is of major concern.
One possible scenario of H5N1 HPAI entering into Australia is through wild birds. In order to mount an effective Australian response, ongoing vigilance and early reporting of signs of the disease is crucial. The immediate reporting of anything unusual such as large numbers of dead birds will ensure authorities can contain and eradicate the disease as quickly as possible.
Duck shooters, along with others, have a significant role in reporting the disease. The sooner veterinarians and authorities can contain a disease, the better chance Australia’s poultry industries have of keeping the disease away from their birds and ultimately, retaining their markets and livelihood.
Want to more information?
The Department of Primary Industries or Agriculture in your state or territory will be able to provide you with information that is relevant to your region.
Other general information on AI can be found on the Avian Influenza home page.