Australia reports first cases of avian influenza

Agencies in the state of Victoria report unrelated cases at egg farm and in a child who had been traveling in India.

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Avian influenza has reached Australia for the first time, with reports of infections in both an egg laying operation and a human. Both instances were reported in the state of Victoria.

Egg farm infection

According to a press release from the Agriculture Victoria agency, preliminary tests have confirmed the presence of avian influenza at an egg farm near Meredith, Victoria. Samples were delivered to the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness at Geelong for further tests, which will determine the serotype, as well as whether it is a highly pathogenic or low pathogenic strain. However, a notice on the Australian Chicken Meat Federation website stated, “it does not appear to be the virulent strain, clade that has affected large populations of avian and other species internationally.”

The affected farm has been placed under quarantine, and animal health officials are at the site to “support the business and investigate further.”

All poultry and bird owners across Victoria have been advised to practice strong biosecurity measures.

Human case

The Victoria Department of Health reported that a Victorian child apparently contracted the H5N1 virus during a visit to India in March. The child was ill at the time, but according to a health advisory from Victoria Chief Health Officer Dr. Clare Looker, “is no longer unwell and has made a full recovery.”

The avian influenza virus was detected through further testing of positive influenza samples that takes place to detect novel or concerning flu virus strains, as part of Victoria’s enhanced surveillance system. Contact tracing has not identified any further cases of avian influenza connected to this human case.

Looker stated, “There is no evidence of transmission in Victoria and the chance of additional human cases is very low as avian influenza does not easily spread between people.”

Cases unrelated

The Victoria Department of Health stated that it was supporting Agriculture Victoria in responding to the avian influenza case at the egg farm. Testing did confirm that the human case was not related to the farm outbreak.

Why Australia was spared for so long

While HPAI has had a persistent presence in Asia, Europe, North America, Africa and South America in recent years, and it has even recently reached the Antarctic region, this is the first time avian influenza has been reported in the Oceania region.

While speaking during the Poultry Market Intelligence Forum during the International Production & Processing Expo (IPPE) in Atlanta, Georgia, on January 31, Dr. David Swayne, consultant, Birdflu Veterinarian LLC, discussed why the virus had not yet reached that part of the world.

Swayne, formerly of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) said that Oceania was a “separate avian influenza ecozone.”

In addition to Oceania and Asia being divided by water, the two geographical areas are also divided by an invisible faunal line known as the Wallace line.

“It’s an ecological barrier that changes the migratory pattern of a lot of aquatic birds, and to this point, at least when studying avian influenza viruses, is a barrier. What happens in Asia, doesn’t always go into Australia,” said Swayne.

View our continuing coverage of the global avian influenza situation

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