US bird flu kills 50.54 million birds this year

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US bird flu kills 50.54 million birds this year

Cage-free chickens are shown inside a facility at Hilliker's Ranch Fresh Eggs in Lakeside, California, USA, April 19, 2022. MIKE BLAKE REUTERS CHICAGO avian flu has wiped out 50.54 million birds in the United States this year, making it the country's deadliest outbreak in history, US Department of Agriculture data shows on Thursday.

The deaths of chickens, turkeys, and other birds are the worst US animal-health disaster to date, surpassing the previous record of 50.5 million birds that died in an avian flu outbreak in 2015.

Birds can die after being infected. After a bird tests positive, entire flocks, which can top a million birds at egg-laying chicken farms, are culled to control the spread of the disease.

The losses of poultry flocks resulted in prices for eggs and turkey meat to record highs, worsening economic pain for consumers facing red-hot inflation and making Thursday's Thanksgiving celebrations more expensive in the United States. Europe and Britain are experiencing their worst avian flu epidemic, and some British supermarkets rationed customers' egg purchases after the outbreak disrupted supplies.

The US outbreak, which began in February, infected flocks of poultry and non-poultry birds across 46 states, USDA data shows. Wild birds like ducks transmit the disease, known as highly pathogenic avian influenza HPAI, through their feces, feathers or direct contact with poultry.

Wild birds continue to spread HPAI throughout the country as they migrate, so preventing contact between domestic flocks and wild birds is critical to the protection of US poultry, said Rosemary Sifford, the USDA's chief veterinary officer.

Farmers struggled to keep the disease and wild birds out of their barns after increasing security and cleaning measures were put in place following the outbreak in 2015. In 2015, about 30 percent of the cases were traced directly to wild bird origins, compared to 85 percent this year, the USDA told Reuters.

In particular, government officials are studying infections at turkey farms in hopes of developing new recommendations for preventing infections. Turkey farms account for more than 70 percent of the commercial poultry farms infected with the outbreak, the USDA said.

READ MORE: Dead migrant seabirds wash up on Canada shore, avian flu suspected.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people should avoid unprotected contact birds that look sick or have died, but the outbreak poses a low risk to the general public.