Avian influenza is a disease of birds which is caused by a virus that can infect many types of birds, particularly ducks, chickens and turkeys, as well as pet birds and wild birds. It is commonly referred to as ‘bird flu’ and, although rare, some strains can cause disease in humans that have had close contact with infected birds. Wild waterfowl are known to be carriers of the virus and are an important source of spread.
For comprehensive information on avian influenza, visit the Australian Government’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry avian influenza page.
If you have immediate concerns, please visit Animal Health Australia’s Outbreak website, or contact the Emergency Animal Disease Hotline on 1800 675 888. The hotline is a national toll-free telephone number that connects callers to the relevant state or territory animal health authority to report concerns about potential emergency animal diseases (EADs)
Australia has had seven outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza in commercial poultry flocks over the past 50 years, the most recent of which occurred in 2013. On each occasion the outbreak was rapidly brought under control and eradicated, thanks to Australia’s emergency animal disease response protocols and other preparedness arrangements.
Importantly, most of these outbreaks have occurred in other sectors of the poultry industry. There has not been an avian influenza outbreak involving a meat chicken flock in Australia since 1985.
Surveillance for Avian Influenza in Wild Birds
Because wild birds can carry avian influenza viruses and therefore have the potential to be a source of infection for the commercial poultry sector, there is a wild bird surveillance program for avian influenza managed through Wildlife Health Australia. This program keeps track of what types of avian influenza viruses are circulating in Australia’s wild birds.
It is extremely rare for strains of avian influenza virus that cause disease in poultry to also cause disease in humans. None of the strains associated with outbreaks in Australian poultry flocks have been known to cause illness in humans.
However, some strains of H5 and H7 avian influenza viruses found overseas have been able to occasionally infect people, but this is rare, and requires very close physical interaction with infected birds. The avian influenza virus does not infect humans easily, and it does not transmit efficiently from person to person. The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that the likelihood of sustained human-to-human transmission of these viruses remains low.
Chicken Meat is Safe
Regardless of whether Avian Influenza exists, chicken meat is safe to eat if it is cooked properly.
The Australian Department of Health, the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) have confirmed that avian influenza is not a food safety issue and does not affect the food chain in this country.
Avian influenza does not survive cooking temperatures. Furthermore, Australia’s emergency disease response protocols ensure that if there is an avian influenza outbreak in Australian commercial chicken flocks, that the risk of infected chicken meat entering the market is negligible.