Modelling the impact of biosecurity practices on the risk of high pathogenic avian influenza outbreaks in Australian commercial chicken farms

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Glass K, Barnes B, Scott A, Toribio J-A, Moloney B, Singh M, Hernandez-Jover M

Prev Vet Med (2019) 165:8-14; 10.1016/j.prevetmed.2019.02.002

As of 2018, Australia has experienced seven outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in poultry since 1976, all of which involved chickens. There is concern that increases in free-range farming could heighten HPAI outbreak risk due to the potential for greater contact between chickens and wild birds that are known to carry low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI). We use mathematical models to assess the effect of a shift to free-range farming on the risk of HPAI outbreaks of H5 or H7 in the Australian commercial chicken industry, and the potential for intervention strategies to reduce this risk. We find that a shift of 25% of conventional indoor farms to free-range farming practices would result in a 6-7% increase in the risk of a HPAI outbreak. Current practices to treat water are highly effective, reducing the risk of outbreaks by 25-28% compared to no water treatment. Halving wild bird presence in feed storage areas could reduce risk by 16-19% while halving wild bird access of potential bridge-species to sheds could reduce outbreak risk by 23-25%, and relatively small improvements in biosecurity measures could entirely compensate for increased risks due to the increasing proportion of free-range farms in the industry. The short production cycle and cleaning practices for chicken meat sheds considerably reduce the risk that an introduced low pathogenic avian influenza virus is maintained in the flock until it is detected as HPAI through increased mortality of chickens. These findings help explain HPAI outbreak history in Australia and suggest practical changes in biosecurity practices that could reduce the risk of future outbreaks.