Bird flu spreads to Southern California, infecting chickens, wild birds and other animals
A H5N1 bird flu virus has spread to the south coast of Australia, infecting chickens, wild birds and other animals in at least five states, and authorities believe the virus could jump from waterfowl to humans.
The virus, which resembles the H5N1 strain of bird flu that swept through Asia in March, has infected at least five people in Australia and prompted officials to warn the public against wild bird contact.
The virus has not been linked directly to humans, but is thought to have jumped from waterfowl to chickens, wild birds and other animals in a country where human contact with wild waterfowl is endemic.
Health officials in the U.S. and Australia said they believe the virus to be the same strain that first infected humans in China late last year, although the virus could not yet be verified.
The virus has infected four people in Australia after it jumped from wild waterfowl on the east coast, where swarms of wild birds feed on feral pigs and other animals, according to the South Australian Department of Primary Industries, the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Affairs and reports by animal health centers.
The virus has been found in chickens in Queensland and Victoria, wildlife in Queensland and the Northern Territory. The virus has also been found in wild birds in Queensland, Northern Territory and Victoria.
Authorities in all those states have reported that the virus does not appear to have spread to other species or to domestic animals.
Officials in all those states have said that, while the virus is not a bird flu that can spread easily from animal to animal, it could be the precursor to a more severe strain of bird flu, that can, and does, spread from animal to human.
Australia is a major staging point for commercial poultry shipments that arrive in the U.S. and then cross the country to reach consumers.
The virus is not considered a serious threat to humans, but it has caused concerns for at least a generation already and could prompt authorities to implement a new poultry industry inspection and testing program to try to reduce the risk of disease to human health and to poultry.
Australian officials said the infection was confirmed in five cases, including two in Queensland, where the virus apparently was caught from wild birds.
Health officials in Victoria said three people in the state were infected with the virus. They have not provided details of the