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Avian influenza

The term ‘avian influenza’ or ‘bird flu’ is used to describe influenza A subtypes that primarily affect poultry, migratory waterfowl, and other bird species. Strains that cause a high proportion of deaths in affected flocks are called ‘highly pathogenic avian influenza’. One of these strains is H5N1.

The H5N1 starin of bird flu is presently causing disease in water birds and domestic poultry in many countries across Asia, Europe and Africa. There is no evidence that H5N1 strain of bird flu is in Australia, however it is possible that H5N1 could arrive in migratory birds. The risk of H5N1 infecting Australian poultry flocks, however, is considered low. Australia has well-tested plans to contain bird flu should an outbreak occur, for more information see the AusVet Plan  (external link).

WHO and influenza experts are concerned that the A/H5N1 virus might spark the next human influenza pandemic because it has crossed the species barrier on at least 3 occasions since 1997 when 18 cases and 6 deaths occurred in Hong Kong. Since January 2003 up until February 2011, 528 human cases and 311 deaths have been reported to the World Health Organisation (external link), over a third occurring in Indonesia. The virus has met all the prerequisites for the start of a pandemic other than the ability to transmit efficiently between humans. However, the possibility that other avian influenza viruses might cause the next pandemic cannot be ruled out.

It is currently very difficult for the H5N1 virus to be transmitted from birds to humans as it requires very close contact with sick or dead birds, but in those cases where it has been transmitted, it has caused severe illness and the death rate has been high.


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  • This page contains information about Avian Influenza, also known as bird flu from the Department of Health and Ageing Avian Influenza or Bird Flu (External link)



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