Restricted areas block movement of goods in Australia as deadly virus spreads

Bird flu is spreading across chicken farms, resulting in new biosecurity measures to stop the virus worsening.

A map of Victoria. Restricted areas (red) are surrounded by buffer zones (purple).
Restricted areas (red) are surrounded by buffer zones (purple) to try and restrict the spread of avian flu. Source: Agriculture Victoria/Google Maps

Two restricted zones have been set up in Australia to stop the spread of a highly virulent strain of avian influenza that’s spread across multiple chicken farms.

On Friday, poultry at a fifth location were found to be infected, sparking a swift response from Victorian authorities. It will kill all birds in the farm’s sheds to try and contain the spread.

Australia remains free of the H5N1 strain which has killed tens of millions of wild birds across the globe, and infected mammals, including humans. The virus affecting farms in Victoria is the closely related H7N3.

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Movement of birds, poultry products, feed and equipment on or off properties is restricted around Meredith and Lethbridge northwest of Geelong, and a separate infection zone at Terang in the state’s centre.

In March, a child returned from overseas carrying the H5N1 strain, but it is not connected to the current H7N3 outbreak.

The latest discovery was a Meredith farm which Agriculture Victoria confirmed is within the Golden Plains Shire which is already a restricted area.

At least 500,000 birds have been destroyed at three of the other infected sites at Meredith and Terang farms operated by Avgo and Surf Coast Eggs Farms. Farm Pride’s Lethbridge farm culled around 80,000 hens, constituting around eight per cent of its total production capacity. Eggs

The state’s Chief Veterinary Officer Graeme Cooke said in a statement that the latest outbreak was not unexpected.

“It’s a difficult time for our farmers and we’re making sure mental health support is available and eligible producers can access compensation,” he said.

Rows of chickens inside an industrial farm.
Experts have warned industrialised agricultural methods are aiding the spread and mutation of the virus. Source: Getty (File Image)

While the outbreak has been restricted to large farms, Dr Cooke issued a warning to all Victorians.

“All bird owners across Victoria are reminded to follow best biosecurity practices such as keeping poultry sheds, yards, aviaries and equipment clean,” he said.

“Housing birds by keeping them in cages or sheds is an effective method of minimising direct contact between your poultry and wild birds.”

While the virus can remain in droppings, respiratory secretions, water, feathers, eggs and meat for long periods of time, supermarket-bought eggs are understood to be safe for consumption.

Authorities are calling for unexplained bird deaths to be reported to the VicEmergency Hotline on 1800 226 226.

With AAP

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