Golden Plains Shire says keep your pet chickens enclosed to protect from bird flu

Avian flu outbreak in regional Victoria

All poultry owners are legally required to keep their domestic birds, such as pet chickens, enclosed following an avian influenza outbreak in Golden Plains Shire.

Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Graeme Cooke said avian influenza outbreaks occurred occasionally.

While native birds can carry it without showing any signs, the highly contagious disease is visible when domestic populations such as chickens, ducks, geese or turkeys are infected.

To reduce the spread and prevent the virus from resulting in significant deaths on poultry farms, a legal requirement to house all domestic birds or to separate them from wild birds as best as possible is now in place across Golden Plains Shire.

The housing requirement is for all poultry owners within the area - even if there are only a small number of birds on the property.

Further, Dr Cooke said all bird owners should practise good biosecurity.

Take small but important measures to discourage wild birds mixing with domestic birds

Dr Graeme Cooke

"Take small but important measures to discourage wild birds mixing with domestic birds," Dr Cooke said.

"These measures include ensuring no access to the domestic birds' food or water, keeping yards clean from wild bird faeces and ensuring that footwear worn into places where domestic poultry is kept, is kept clean."

It comes after two egg farms near Lethbridge tested positive for the high pathogenic avian influenza virus in recent weeks.

While native waterbirds, shorebirds and gulls are the "natural reservoirs" for avian influenza viruses, or "bird flu", sometimes the HPAI and LPAI strains can be spread to poultry farms.

The source of the H7N7 outbreak is still under investigation, according to Agriculture Victoria.

Another farm in East Gippsland tested positive for H5N2 low pathogenic avian influenza virus on August 10, with inquiries linking the farm to Lethbridge.

All of the infected farms have been quarantined under the Livestock Disease Control Act 1994.

Dr Cooke said control actions, which includes "humanely destroying" all of the poultry on the affected properties have taken place, in consultation and with the consent of the business owners.

Movement controls of domestic birds and items such as eggs and equipment are also in place across Golden Plains Shire, as well as within a 2-kilometre radius around the infected property in East Gippsland.

The restricted area around Lethbridge. Source: Agriculture Victoria

The restricted area around Lethbridge. Source: Agriculture Victoria

The controls will remain in place until Agriculture Victoria is confident the disease has been eradicated and has not spread to further farms.

Agriculture Victoria has been in contact with more than 300 property owners in the 'restricted and control zone' since the first farm tested positive on July 31.

To monitor if the disease spreads, samples are being taken from large producers in the restricted area and submitted to the laboratory for testing on a daily basis.

This is to ensure that if it does spread, it is detected as soon as possible.

In 2012, Agriculture Victoria responded to a low pathogenic strain of avian influenza. This was the last time it has been detected in birds in the state.

The control area in Golden Plains. Source: Agriculture Victoria

The control area in Golden Plains. Source: Agriculture Victoria

The department said it regularly conducts surveillance, which has repeatedly confirmed that highly pathogenic subtypes of avian influenza virus that are a serious risk to human health (such as H5N1) are not present in Australia.

The Department of Health and Human Services has also confirmed that neither strain is a risk to human health.

While humans can contract it if there is close contact with sick birds, it is rare and it cannot be easily transmitted to another human.

If a human does contract it, they only exhibit mild symptoms.

The government also says there is no risk of transmission through consumption of eggs or chicken meat that is thoroughly cooked.

Any movement of domestic birds, bird products and equipment into, out of or within the Golden Plains Shire and East Gippsland Control Areas requires a permit from Agriculture Victoria.

For more information on the outbreaks or on permits, call (03) 4334 2715 or visit the Agriculture Victoria website.

This story Avian flu outbreak in regional Victoria first appeared on The Courier.