Bird flu readiness to be tested
More than 60 NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) staff will take part in a national exercise designed to test Australia’s ability to respond to an outbreak of Avian Influenza (or bird flu) in poultry.
Exercise Eleusis will involve hundreds of staff from government departments and industry bodies in every state and territory as well as the Commonwealth, specifically testing the cooperation between agriculture and health agencies.
NSW DPI spokesperson Graeme Eggleston said next month’s national exercise would be particularly challenging, as it required a joint-agency response.
“In most emergencies there is a single government agency that has the key responsibility for providing a coordinated response,” he explained.
“The challenge of Exercise Eleusis is that it requires a joint response from both NSW DPI and NSW Health – and the same in every state, territory and the Commonwealth.
“It will also give us the opportunity to work closely with the various poultry industry groups, as well as a range of supporting government and non government organisations.
“The exercise focuses primarily on a simulated outbreak of avian influenza (AI) in poultry, however, the potential impact on human health will also be tested as part of the exercise.
“If we did have an outbreak of the highly pathogenic strain of AI, the impact on both the poultry industry and the wider community would be huge, with major State and Federal implications.
“The beauty of a national exercise such as Eleusis is that it allows us to test our response mechanisms including areas such as communications, resource allocation and movement controls.
“It is very important, however, that the wider community understands this will be an exercise only, and is not to be confused with a real disease outbreak.”
Mr Eggleston said Exercise Eleusis was not designed as a test with a ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ result, but rather to identify those areas requiring improvement to help better manage a real outbreak.
Exercise Eleusis will run from 28 November to 2 December and will be aimed at testing the national and state integration of agricultural and health agencies dealing with zoonotic (affecting animals and humans) strains of AI.
Mr Eggleston said while no actual field activities would be included in the exercise, a lot of pressure would be placed on staff working at strategic and policy levels of the response.
“Most NSW DPI staff will work from the State Disease Control Headquarters in Orange, while a number will also work from the State Emergency Operations Centre (SEOC) in Sydney,” he said.
“The exercise will also be an important test of how well our staff communicate with other state, territory and national agricultural departments.”
Exercise Eleusis marks the first time a federal agricultural disease simulation has been held since 2002, when Exercise Minotaur tested the response to a simulated outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease.
“Most recently there have been outbreaks of AI in various parts of Asia, which is another reason that it is important that we improve our ability to respond to an outbreak here,” Mr Eggleston said.
Avian Influenza (AI) is a contagious disease of animals that usually only infects birds and pigs. Domestic poultry and waterfowl are particularly vulnerable.
Helpful hints for poultry and bird owners to prevent spread of disease:
- Closely monitor the health of your birds
- Report any unusual health symptoms to your local vet, RLPB or the emergency animal disease hotline on 1800 675 888
- Maintain good biosecurity and hygiene measures
- Eg make sure fencing is intact and well secured
- Eg keep areas around poultry clean and tidy
- Minimise contact between poultry and wild birds
- Keep wild birds, dogs, cats, rodents and other livestock out of poultry buildings and feed stores.
This story appears Agriculture Today.