Identifying areas of Australia at risk for H5N1 avian influenza infection from exposure to nomadic waterfowl moving throughout the Australo-Papuan region

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Iain J. East *
Samuel A. Hamilton
Louise A. Sharp
Michael G. Garner
(*) Corresponding Author:
Iain J. East | iain.east@daff.gov.au

Abstract

Since 2003, highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) due to the H5N1 virus has been reported from both domestic poultry and wild birds in over 60 countries and this has resulted in the direct death or slaughter of over 250 million birds. The potential for HPAI to be introduced to Australian commercial poultry via migratory shorebirds returning from Asia has previously been assessed as a low risk. However, introduction of HPAI from areas to the immediate north of Australia via nomadic waterfowl that range throughout the Australo-Papuan region provides a second potential pathway of entry. Surveillance programmes provide an important early warning for Australia’s estimated 2,000 commercial poultry farms but to be efficient they should be risk-based and target resources at those areas and sectors of the industry at higher risk of exposure. In order to address this need, this study compared the distribution and movement patterns of native waterfowl to identify regions where the likelihood of HPAI incursion and establishment was highest. Analysis of bird banding records provided information on the maximum distances moved and dispersal patterns of the species of waterfowl of interest. Introduction via Cape York was found to be most likely and all poultry farms in Queensland were found to be within range of waterfowl that can shed H5N1 virus for up to 17 days. The final analysis showed that the area at greatest risk of HPAI introduction is the Atherton tableland near Cairns.

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