In South Korea 35 million poultry have been destroyed following the worst outbreak of avian influenza ever seen in the country.
Various strains of the virus have spread globally over the past two years, creating concern among scientists about the next pandemic.
Forty new countries have reported avian influenza since November 2016, according to the World Organisation for Animal Health, OIE.
It brings to 77 the number of countries affected and 13 different strains of the virus.
But Australia’s leading poultry veterinarian warns there is no room for complacency.
“Right at the moment, right throughout Europe and the Middle East, we call it a global occurrence a we have strains like H5N1, H5N2, H5N9, that’s become extensive globally,” associate professor at Melbourne University Peter Scott said.
Bird-flu resurgence in Asia
“Not all are a risk to humans, but there’s real concern in China where a number of people have fallen ill.
“China is having problems with a strain called H7N9 and we believe this is of more concern.”
He said the original H5N1 strain, which had been discovered in Malaysia this week, was more obvious as it made poultry sick.
The Chinese strain was less obvious in birds yet it could cause significant disease in humans.
Australia has begun to fill some of the egg shortage in Korea, supplying up to $20 million worth of eggs this year.
The US had also been supplying Korea with eggs, but the trade was suspended after a case of avian influenza was discovered in Tennessee.
Egg-producing chicken farm in Harris, Iowa on April 23, 2014
“Last weekend the USDA announced that 73,000 broiler breeders were infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza,” Egg Producers of America vice president David Inall said.
“The AI was the north American lineage, H7N9 and those birds were immediately euthanased, with no detection since.”
It has been two years since the US recorded its worst bird flu outbreak when 50 million poultry were euthanased.
“In 2015, highly pathogenic avian influenza swept across the US, starting in Minnesota and moving into Iowa, the two largest states affected,” Mr Inall said.
“Overall 48 million birds were affected and euthanased, turkeys and layers. Of that, 42 million were layers.
“It was the largest exotic disease outbreak in US history.”
Since then farmers in America have improved their biosecurity.
“They have comprehensive disease prevention protocols, like restricting farm access, and preventing hens from exposure to wild and migratory birds,” Mr Inall said.
“But that’s complicated because the Mississippi flyway is 500 miles wide; there’s a lot of lakes and streams and lot of opportunity for human-to-bird contact.”
Australia ‘a little bit sheltered’ from serious strains
Biosecurity expert Dr Scott said Austrlia was not at risk from migratory birds, as those with the virus would be too sick to make the journey, although he said Australia already had its own strains of bird flu carried by waterbirds.
“We are not on these wild bird migratory pathways that go through the South-East Asia, the Middle East, Siberia and places like that,” Dr Scott said.
“The high-risk waterfowl, the ducks, do not migrate from up north down into the Australian area.
“So we’re a little bit sheltered from these strains like H5N1 and H7N9 and these outbreaks that we have here are occasional and sporadic, and are based on Australian strains, not these global strains.”
Dr Scott said Australia’s emergency disease plan led the world, but it was important people declared at the border if they had had very close contact with diseased poultry overseas.
“We’ve always had a very strong thing called an Ausvet Plan and the industry continues to enhance due diligence with biosecurity,” he said.
“But there’s a little bit of concern with the significant expansion of free-range birds, smaller producers, and we have to work a bit harder to get these people to appreciate the importance of biosecurity in regards to waterfowl and not using un-sanitised water.”