Identifying areas of Australia at risk of H5N1 avian influenza infection from exposure to migratory birds: a spatial analysis

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Iain J. East *
Samuel Hamilton
Graeme Garner
(*) Corresponding Author:
Iain J. East | iain.east@daff.gov.au

Abstract

Since 2003, highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) due to H5N1 virus has been reported from both domestic poultry and wild birds in 60 countries resulting in the direct death or slaughter of over 250,000,000 birds. The potential exists for HPAI to spread to Australia via migratory shorebirds returning from Asia with the most likely pathway of introduction into commercial poultry flocks involving the transfer of HPAI from migrating shorebirds to native waterfowl species that subsequently interact with poultry on low security poultry farms. 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. This study compared the distributions of migratory shorebirds and native waterfowl to identify six regions where the likelihood of exotic HPAI incursion and establishment in native waterfowl is highest. Analysis of bird banding records showed that native waterfowl did not move further than 10 km during the spring breeding season when migratory shorebirds arrived in Australia. Therefore, poultry farms within 10 km of significant shorebird habitat in these six regions of highest comparative risk were identified. The final analysis showed that the estimated risk to Australia is low with only two poultry farms, one at Broome and one at Carnarvon, located in the regions of highest risk.

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