(NEXSTAR) – Since the start of 2022, avian influenza has been confirmed in at least 22 states, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Should you be concerned?
Spread of the disease is largely blamed on the droppings of wild birds, such as ducks and geese, which often show no signs of illness. But studies suggest the virus can be tracked into secure chicken and turkey barns on equipment, workers, mice, small birds, and even dust particles.
An outbreak in 2015 resulted in the deaths of about 50 million chickens and turkeys, causing egg and meat prices to soar. Bird flu hit more than 200 farms in 15 states, costing the federal government about $1 billion and the poultry industry an estimated $3 billion.
While the current avian flu outbreak will only likely have a small impact on you, here’s what you should know.
Where has avian flu been detected?
Among the most recent detection was the presence of a highly pathogenic avian influenza in a commercial turkey flock and a backyard mixed-species flock, both in Minnesota. On Wednesday, the USDA reported two outbreaks among commercial turkeys – a flock of more than 55,000 in South Dakota and another of 35,500 in Iowa.
Here are all of the states that have confirmed reports of avian flu, according to the USDA:
- New Hampshire
- New York
- North Carolina
- South Dakota
Roughly 7 million chickens and turkeys have been killed this year throughout these states due to avian influenza. On Tuesday, Iowa officials 1.5 million chickens at an egg-laying farm about 60 miles west of Des Moines would need to be killed because of the flu. About 28,000 birds at a nearby turkey farm were also killed. Earlier this month, an Iowa egg-laying farm was forced to kill more than 5 million chickens.
How does the outbreak impact me?
First, avian flu isn’t a foodborne illness – meaning you can’t become infected from eating poultry after it’s been cooked properly, according to Tom Super, the Senior Vice President of Communications for the National Chicken Council. The same goes for eggs, Marc Dresner, director of integrated communications for the American Egg Board notes. Additionally, birds that do test positive for avian flu won’t enter the food chain.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk of infection among humans is low. The agency notes that those working with birds or exposed to them in the wild are at a higher risk of infection than the general public.
One human infection has been reported, the CDC reports. The individual, a person in the United Kingdon, lived with a large number of domestically kept birds, which tested positive for avian flu. According to the World Health Organization, the individual “remained clinically asymptomatic and is now considered to not be infectious.”
Of the affected birds, about 10-12% are broilers – chickens that are raised as meat – Super tells Nexstar. Because of its limited impact (roughly 9 billion broilers are raised every year), Super says they don’t expect the avian flu to impact production or chicken meat prices.
About 3% of the egg-laying chicken population has been affected so far, Dresner says. He adds that while egg farmers have learned a lot since the last major avian flu outbreak in 2015, “even the most rigorous disease prevention practices are not always successful in keeping migratory birds from spreading the disease.”
Egg prices may also be on the rise near you, but avian flu isn’t the only contributing factor. The demand ahead of Easter, higher costs to feed the birds and ship the products may also impact the prices you see at the store, one economist tells Nexstar’s KXAN.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.