Suspected bird flu outbreak hits Maitland

The Department of Primary Industries (DPI) has quarantined a layer hen facility understood to be in the Maitland area of the Lower Hunter following a suspected case of avian influenza.

Up to 50,000 layer hens stand to be destroyed.

* What the NSW Food Authority says

It is understood there have been five known avian influenza outbreaks in Australia since 1976

The last known outbreak of bird flu is believed to be in the Tamworth area in December 1997 in which thousands of birds had to be destroyed.

It’s believed the  H5N7 strain was a windswept virus that could have been spread to chicken sheds through emu colonies in the area.

“The suspected virus is definitely not the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain that has gained worldwide attention — nor is it closely related to that strain,” NSW chief veterinary officer Ian Roth said.

“Australia has previously had a small number of outbreaks of avian influenza viruses which were all quickly and successfully eradicated.

“The property has been placed under quarantine and initial tracing and surveillance is being undertaken to confirm that the virus hasn’t spread. We currently have no evidence to suggest it has.

“DPI’s First Response Team has been dispatched to monitor the locked-down property.”

Dr Roth said the peak egg industry body Australian Egg Corporation has been advised and the property owners are co-operating with authorities.

“We are still waiting on final confirmation from CSIRO’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory which is expected later this afternoon,” Dr Roth said.

Dr Roth said people who notice sick or dead birds should contact their local veterinarian or call the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline 1800 675 888.

Do you know more? Contact snorris@ruralpress.com

The signs to look out for:

The Department of Primary Industries website has issued a fact sheet on the signs to look out for in birds who may be infected with Avian Influenza.

* Infected birds my die shortly after acquiring the infection with no obvious signs but could show

* Breathing difficulties

* Coughing 

* Swollen heads

* Dark comb and wattles

* Depression

* A drop in egg production

* Changes in egg shell colour 

* Loss of appetite

* Decreased vocalisation 

* Nervous signs including head tremor

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