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Experts warn Australia is ill-prepared for deadly bird flu that kills millions of wild birds | Bird flu



Conservationists have warned that Australia is ill-prepared for the potential arrival of a deadly form of bird flu that has killed millions of birds and thousands of mammals overseas.

When HPAI H5 (highly pathogenic avian influenza subtype H5) arrived in South America late last year, it killed more than 60,000 seabirds and 3,500 sea lions in Peru alone in a matter of weeks.

It has spread to every continent except Australia and Antarctica and has so far affected 300 species of wild birds and caused hundreds of mass deaths.

The Invasive Species Council (ISC) has sent a letter to Agriculture Minister Murray Watt and Environment Minister Tanya Pliebersek calling for the development of a national response plan for avian influenza in the wild.

“Australia is well prepared to respond to an avian influenza infection in poultry, having previously eradicated it eight times, but there is no plan for wildlife,” ISC Chief Policy Analyst Carol Booth said in a statement.

The council calls on the government to establish a national working group that includes environmental and biosecurity agencies from all governments, as well as a range of wildlife, disease and conservation experts.

Booth said that while eradication of outbreaks in wild birds is not possible, steps can be taken by the government to minimize impacts on wildlife and help recovery. These included monitoring, reporting, and research to assess impact, study disease, and assist in recovery; regulation of human access to bird colonies to prevent disturbance; removal and disposal of dead birds; rescue and euthanasia of wild animals; vaccination of captive-bred colonies of endangered species and development of local responses for specific bird colonies.

The risk of the virus entering Australia is considered low as there is no species of duck, one of the main carriers of the virus, migrating to Australia.

But experts warned the risk of a virus increase and that this is most likely to occur through migratory waders, which are also hosts for the virus.

Every spring, 8 million waders arrive in Australia via the East Asian-Australasian flyway.

Booth said Australia has invested millions of dollars to prepare for livestock diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease in cattle, African swine fever in pigs and avian influenza in poultry.

She said there was not that level of preparation for major wildlife diseases and it was “a major gap in Australian biosecurity”.

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