A highly dangerous bird flu virus is wreaking havoc on American farms and poultry yards, spreading to at least 24 states less than two months after the first infection in a commercial flock was discovered.
Almost 23 million birds have died as a result of the disaster. It’s the country’s deadliest avian flu outbreak since 2015, when more than 50 million birds died. The outbreak is driving up consumer prices for eggs and chicken meat, which had already been rising owing to inflation, as had many other factors.
Although humans are rarely infected with avian flu, it is a death sentence for birds. According to the Minnesota Animal Board of Health’s executive director, if one bird in a flock becomes diseased, the entire flock must be culled.
Every year, the average American consumes around 100 pounds of chicken. And there’s a chance that this new virus will cause some shortages. Turkey and chicken are already more expensive at the supermarket, and costs may rise even further.
Here’s all you need to know about the outbreak.
The virus has affected nearly 23 million birds in 24 states
Although some birds have perished as a result of the disease, the great majority are being culled in order to prevent the deadly and highly infectious virus from spreading further. Millions of hens and turkeys grown for eggs or meat in barns and backyards are included in this category.
According to the US Department of Agriculture, more than 5 million birds died at an egg-laying factory in Osceola on March 31, making Iowa one of the worst-affected states. In total, the state has exterminated more than 13 million birds.
Around 12:00 ET on Tuesday, 72 commercial flocks and 46 backyard flocks around the country were found to be afflicted.
Humans are only at a low risk from bird flu, according to the CDC
Human infection with the avian virus is extremely rare. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, no human cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), which includes the H5N1 bird flu virus, have ever been detected in the United States.
The virus poses no threat to the nation’s food supply, according to the CDC, because proper handling and heating food to an interior temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit eliminates any germs and viruses present, including HPAI viruses.
According to the CDC, there have only been four human infections of low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) viruses in the United States, all of which resulted in mild to severe disease.
The virus was discovered in wild birds for the first time
On Jan. 13, the USDA issued the first warning of the new epidemic, stating that a strain of the highly dangerous avian influenza virus had been discovered in wild birds for the first time since 2016. Many of the earliest instances were found in birds killed by hunters in South and North Carolina.
As wild birds traveled north, the virus spread to farms, resulting in more cases. A commercial turkey flock in Dubois County, Indiana, was determined to have an epidemic on Feb. 9.
After having to slaughter tens of thousands of birds in 2015, Ben Slinger, whose family grows turkeys for a meat processor, recently told Iowa Public Radio that he’s taking efforts to safeguard his flocks against infection. Workers wear separate pairs of boots for each barn in addition to disinfection.
“We’ve seen what happens after that, and it’s really depressing,” Slinger added.
Cases have already been reported from Maine to Texas, where the virus was discovered on Sunday in a commercial pheasant flock in Erath County.
Chicken costs are increasing at supermarkets
The average price of chicken breasts in major supermarkets in the United States this week was $3.93 per pound, up from $3.14 last week. According to the Agriculture Department, the price was $2.48 a year ago.
According to the USDA, egg costs have increased since 2021, and breast tenders now cost a full dollar more than they did a year ago.
With a few exceptions, “prices for white parts are on the rise,” according to the department. “Dark meat goods are becoming more expensive, and bulk pack drumsticks, thighs, and leg quarters are taking center stage.”
The most recent outbreak lasted around 6 months
According to the USDA, the avian flu outbreak that peaked in late spring 2015 was “the greatest poultry health disaster in US history.”
Many of the cases were discovered around “the intersection of the Central and Mississippi flyways, which are used by wild birds during seasonal migration,” according to the CDC. That’s the same area that’s currently being ravaged by the virus.
Fomites — disease-transmitting objects — were identified as a major source of viral transmission during the 2015 outbreak. Employees’ boots and apparel from the poultry sector, as well as trucks used to disseminate feed, are examples of such things. Officials also blamed case clusters on the high location of some manufacturing firms.
The outbreak in 2015 slowed dramatically and terminated in June of that year, although 3 million birds died in the final month. According to the USDA, it took several more months for some poultry prices to peak and subsequently stabilize due to the residual influence on the supply chain.