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After the first human case of the deadly H5N1 bird flu strain was detected in Australia, a number of emergency measures are planned.

More than 80,000 birds are being culled in New South Wales after bird flu was detected on a second farm in the Hawkesbury region. The property has been in lockdown since Wednesday. The CSIRO’s Australian Centre for Disease Prevention said the strain was different to the one detected in Victoria and likely came from a wild bird.

Emergency measures include testing of commercial vaccines, increased wildlife surveillance and rapid response systems to the “highly morbid” H5N1 avian influenza strain.

According to statistics from the World Health Organization, more than half of confirmed H5N1 infections in humans result in death.

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The investment to combat an outbreak, which Agriculture Minister Murray Watt confirmed to the AFR, came after a “severely infected” girl brought the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain to Melbourne from India.

Unlike the bird flu strains that have broken out on farms in Victoria, NSW and the ACT, the new H5N1 strain can cause severe illness in humans and has a “high mortality rate”.

Of the 891 confirmed H5N1 infections in humans since 2003, 463 deaths have been reported to the WHO. That is 52 percent.

Dr Clare Looker of the Victorian Department of Health and the World Health Organization says there has been no transmission of H5N1 to humans. Image: Supplied

Australia’s two-year-old patient zero, who made a full recovery within 2.5 weeks, was quarantined after returning to Australia from Kolkata on March 1.

In May, Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Dr Clare Looker sought to allay fears of a major outbreak of the H5N1 infection. According to the WHO, the disease is not consistently transmissible between humans.

“There is no evidence of transmission in Victoria and the likelihood of further human cases is very low as avian influenza does not spread easily between people,” Dr Looker said in a health alert.

The agricultural areas affected by bird flu in Victoria. Image: Agriculture Victoria

“No further cases were identified through contact tracing.”

The new measures to contain the spread of the H5N1 strain come against the backdrop of a global outbreak of other strains in birds and animals.

Following the discovery of the H7N8, H7N3 and H7N9 virus strains, millions of chickens were killed across the country and quarantine orders were imposed on at least eleven poultry farms.

Workers at the Meredith Chicken Farm go through a cleaning station before entering the farm. Photo: Mike Dugdale


The H5N1 strain is a subtype of bird flu that can infect humans and cause severe illness. The World Health Organization says that while the strain has a low chance of transmission, it has a high mortality rate.

The Australian case of H5N1 is not identical to the highly pathogenic viruses that caused an outbreak among dairy cows in the United States.


A two-and-a-half-year-old girl who traveled to Calcutta, India, from February 12 to 19 is the first laboratory-confirmed human case of H5N1.

The girl’s family did not disclose that she was unwell when she arrived in Australia on March 1.

A day later, she was taken to a hospital in Victoria and then transferred to an intensive care unit in Melbourne. On March 18, bird flu was confirmed.


The girl, who had no previous medical history, began feeling unwell in India on February 25, suffering from loss of appetite, irritability and fever.

The symptoms worsened and the feverish girl began coughing and vomiting.

Other symptoms may include conjunctivitis and gastrointestinal problems before respiratory diseases and neurological changes occur.

A serious illness can be fatal.


According to the World Health Organization, more than half (52 percent) of confirmed human infections resulted in death.

Between 2003 and 2004, 891 cases of human infection with H5N1 were confirmed, including 463 deaths in 24 countries.

Almost all were related to close contact with infected birds or contaminated environments.


According to the World Health Organization, “Evidence suggests that some antiviral drugs, particularly neuraminidase inhibitors (oseltamivir, zanamivir), may shorten the duration of viral replication and, in some cases, improve survival.”