This paper examines the construction of avian influenza in Australian media and federal government policy, with a focus placed on discourses of contagion, preparedness and risk. The threat of an infectious disease outbreak, such as avian influenza, on social life is surrounded by a range of collective narratives which attempt to make it explicable. These narratives socially define the disease and provide explanations for its existence. The paper demonstrates that central to these narratives are depictions of the source of the outbreak and suggestions of appropriate responses to the threat. Methodologically, a narrative analysis of print media and government documents was conducted. This showed that conceptually both government and media discourses could be understood in terms of risk, contagion and blame. Furthermore, it was found that narratives linking the risk of avian influenza with globalised interconnectedness and contagion by the developing world underpin discourses of causation and frame the reactions to and preparation for a potential outbreak.