Australia not prepared for outbreak of deadly avian flu: experts

Australia is unprepared for the potential arrival of a deadly form of avian influenza, experts have warned.

The Invasive Species Council (ISC) recently called on the Australian government to draft a national response plan for a possible outbreak of avian influenza in wildlife.

The council identified high pathogenicity avian influenza (HPAI) subtype H5 as a particular concern.

It has affected 300 species of wild birds globally and has caused widespread mass mortality events. Within weeks of arriving in Peru late in 2022, H5 had killed thousands of seabirds and sea lions.

The ISC called for the government to establish a national task force made up of environmental, biosecurity, wildlife and conservation experts to prepare for a possible outbreak.

“Australia is well prepared to respond to avian influenza infection in poultry, having previously eradicated it eight times, but there is no plan for wildlife,” principal policy analyst Carol Booth said in a media release.

The council said eradication would not be possible for outbreaks in wild Australian birds but that monitoring, reporting and research could minimize the impact.

The risk of H5 reaching Australia is low because no ducks, which are one of its main carriers, migrate to the country.

However, experts have warned that migratory shorebirds, eight million of which fly to Australia every year, are a growing threat.

Booth said the federal government spent millions of dollars every year preparing for the arrival of livestock diseases but relatively little protecting wildlife.

“The situation is more complex in native species — unlike livestock, native animals cannot be culled or contained — and the consequences are potentially dire,” she said. ■

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