US amid deadliest bird flu outbreak in history, driving up costs for turkey, eggs and more

FILE PHOTO: Cage-free chickens are shown inside a facility at Hilliker’s Ranch Fresh Eggs in Lakeside. April 19, 2022. Picture taken April 19, 2022. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

Bird flu has killed 50.54 million birds in the US this year, making it the deadliest outbreak in the country’s history, Agriculture Department data showed Thursday.

The death of chickens, turkeys and other birds represents the worst animal health disaster in the US to date, surpassing the previous record of 50.5 million birds that died in a bird flu outbreak in 2015.

Birds often die after becoming infected. Entire flocks, which can exceed a million birds in laying hen farms, are also culled to control the spread of the disease after one bird tests positive.

Poultry losses sent prices for turkey eggs and meat to record highs, worsening the economic pain for consumers facing red-hot inflation and making Thursday’s Thanksgiving celebrations more expensive in The USA.

Europe and Britain are also experiencing their worst bird flu crises, with some British supermarkets rationing customers’ egg purchases after the outbreak disrupted supplies.

The US outbreak, which began in February, has infected flocks of poultry and other birds in 46 states, USDA data shows. Wild birds such as ducks transmit the virus, known as highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), through their feces, feathers, or direct contact with poultry.

“Wild birds continue to spread HPAI across the country as they migrate, so avoiding contact between domestic flocks and wild birds is critical to protecting America’s poultry,” said Rosemary Sifford, USDA’s chief veterinary officer. .

Farmers fought to keep the disease and wild birds out of their barns after increasing safety and cleaning measures after the 2015 outbreak. In 2015, about 30% of cases were traced directly to the source of wild birds, compared to 85% this year, the USDA said. Reuters.

Government officials are studying infections on turkey farms, in particular, in the hope of developing new recommendations to prevent infections. Turkey farms account for more than 70% of commercial poultry farms infected in the outbreak, the USDA said.

People should avoid unprotected contact with birds that appear sick or have died, although the outbreak poses a low risk to the general public, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

(Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Sandra Maler)

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