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Bird flu spreads to second farm in Australia’s Victoria state

(Bloomberg) — Hundreds of thousands of laying hens have been culled in southeastern Australia as quarantine measures are implemented to contain outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza.

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The H7N3 bird flu strain was detected on a farm in Terang, about 212 kilometers (132 miles) southwest of Melbourne, agriculture officials in Victoria state reported Thursday. The property is directly connected through the joint management, staff and machinery of a farm in Meredith, about 130 kilometers northeast of Terang, where about 400,000 chickens were culled this week to eradicate the virus, according to the Sydney Morning Herald .

An unrelated outbreak of low-pathogenic H9N2 bird flu has been detected at a poultry farm in Western Australia, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported Thursday. The outbreaks add to growing international concern about bird flu, especially the H5N1 strain that has spread globally, although it has not been reported in Australia.

Cases among humans in direct contact with infected animals are very rare, but not impossible, Victoria’s chief veterinarian Graeme Cooke said in a statement. “Consumers should not worry about supermarket eggs and poultry products, they pose no risk and are safe to consume,” he said.

Shares in Australian poultry producer and processor Inghams Group Ltd. fell as much as 2.4% in Sydney trading in early Friday, and are down about 4% since the initial outbreak was reported on Wednesday. . Shares in Collins Foods Ltd., which operates Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants in Australia, fell as much as 1.8% early Friday.

The H5N1 virus, first reported about 30 years ago, has devastated wild bird and mammal species around the world in recent years. In March, it was reported in dairy cows in the US, where it contaminated the milk supply and caused non-serious eye infections in two farm workers.

Pandemic risk

Infections in cows and people increase the chance that the virus will undergo adaptive genetic changes that could allow it to infect and spread more efficiently in the human respiratory tract. So far, researchers haven’t seen any signs of that happening.

Bird flu is mainly transmitted by wild waterfowl such as ducks and geese, which bypass Australia during their migration, said Raina MacIntyre, head of the biosecurity program at the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. The widespread outbreak of H5N1 in the US may lead to more bird species carrying the virus along migration routes other than waterfowl, she said.

“This means Australia’s protected status may be at risk,” MacIntyre said.

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