Ministry of Primary Industries warns chances of bird flu outbreak in New Zealand are rising

The Ministry of Primary Industries has warned our chances of a bird flu outbreak in New Zealand is rising.

While the risk of spread to people is low, precautions are already being made to protect our poultry and dairy industries.

Hundreds of thousands of chickens in the United States have been euthanised to prevent the spread of bird flu over the past few months. It's the harsh reality of strict biosecurity.

Here in New Zealand, it's got experts worried.

"This has changed our risk here of the disease arriving in New Zealand," said Mary van Andel, chief veterinary officer at the Ministry of Primary Industries.

A multi-state outbreak of this strain in the US has spread from wild birds to poultry and dairy cows. It's a first for their dairy industry.

"And those cattle then moved around the US. And the disease has spread between cows during the milking process," said van Andel.

"This strain we're concerned about is adapted to persisting in wild birds, and we can't control wild birds entering New Zealand."

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that as of June 13, it had been detected in 12 US states and 101 dairy herds.

There have also been a handful of cases where people have been infected.

Meanwhile in Australia, 240,000 birds in New South Wales were culled in the last two days.

Earlier this week, more than a million were killed in Victoria for the same reason.

"It's a really difficult situation, but this is necessary. We have to contain this virus. This is something we're monitoring hour by hour," said Australia's Agriculture Minister Tara Moriarty.

They've been infected with a different strain to the one experts here are worried about. But if the strain affecting the US lands here, we could see similar scenes.

"It could have a significant impact on our poultry industry and also on our biodiversity," said van Andel.

Sparking an all-out response, to prevent both.

"We work with Fish and Game on sampling mallard ducks, we've increased our ability to do surveillance in the sub-Antarctic islands by providing testing kits to our colleagues at DoC."

New Zealanders here are being told to avoid touching groups of dead birds if they see them - a group is considered more than three - and to call the exotic pest and disease hotline (0800 80 99 66).