Bird flu case detected in the ACT, Canberra farm placed under quarantine

Bird flu case detected in the ACT, Canberra farm placed under quarantine

The ACT government has confirmed the territory’s first case of avian influenza has been detected at a Canberra farm, which has been quarantined.

Biosecurity authorities said the virus was brought to the ACT from New South Wales via the transporting of eggs and associated materials for commercial grading.

They said the territory was “well positioned to respond to this event, which is localised to a single property”.

The ACT’s acting chief veterinary officer, Dr Kyeelee Driver, said the government received information on Tuesday morning that the ACT premises — a commercial chicken farm, which also operates an egg-grading facility — contained animals that could potentially be infected with avian influenza.

Testing, including by the CSIRO’s Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness laboratories, then confirmed the presence of the high-pathogenicity avian influenza (HPAI) H7N8 strain, and subsequently established a link with an infected site in New South Wales.   

Transmission believed to have happened during transport, not from wild birds

Dr Driver said no “unusual” bird deaths had been reported at the facility on Monday during surveillance, and it’s believed the transmission occurred during the transporting of eggs and associated materials, like packaging cartons and trucks, rather than live chickens.

Authorities do not believe the transmission took place from wild birds in a “spillover” event. 

The ACT facility is understood to have “very good biosecurity” in place, and has been “made biosecure”, but officials are currently assessing how many birds will need to be destroyed.

Dr Driver said the response was in line with the national strategy while ACT Health authorities said they were “working closely with … colleagues in NSW and Victoria” to respond to the incident.

ACT Environment Minister Rebecca Vassarotti says there is no food safety risk to consumers.(ABC News: Matt Roberts)

Environment Minister Rebecca Vassarotti sought to reassure the community of the low risk of avian influenza virus.

“Transmission to humans is very rare, and unlikely unless there is direct and close contact with sick birds,” she said.

“Further, avian influenza is not a food safety concern and it is safe to eat properly handled and cooked poultry meat, eggs and egg products.”

The federal government’s outbreak information also states current strains of avian influenza do not appear to transmit easily between humans, and eggs and chicken meat are safe to eat provided they are handled and cooked according to standard food-handling practices.

To date, there have been no reports of human cases of bird flu in the ACT. 

Anyone suspected of exposure at the affected property will be monitored for symptoms.

The government couldn’t say how long depopulation and decontamination efforts would take, but encouraged the community to “be aware” and contact the Emergency Animal Disease Hotline with any concerns.

Avian flu outbreaks happening across the country

Virus strain HPAI H7N8 was also detected on a large poultry egg farm in the Hawkesbury district of NSW last week.

The HPAI H7N8 strain is not the same as the H5N1 strain that is causing concern globally.

It is also not connected to the Victorian outbreak of the H7N3 and H7N9 strains, which have impacted seven farms in the state.

More than 1 million chickens have had to be culled in response to the outbreak of the highly contagious and deadly H7 strains of bird flu at farms in Meredith, Terang, and other locations in western Victoria, including a commercial duck farm.

A low-pathogenic case of bird flu was also detected in Western Australia last month.

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