U.S. bird deaths record 50.54 million in bird flu outbreak

U.S. bird deaths record 50.54 million in bird flu outbreak

The United States has wiped out 50.54 million birds this year, making it the country's deadliest outbreak in history, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

The deaths of chickens, turkeys and other birds represent the worst U.S. animal-health disaster to date, topping 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 loss of poultry flocks caused 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 the worst avian flu crisis, and some British supermarkets rationed eggs purchases after the outbreak disrupted supplies.

The U.S. 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, 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 protecting U.S. poultry, said Rosemary Sifford, USDA's chief veterinary officer.

After increasing security and cleaning measures in 2015, farmers struggled to keep the disease out of their barns. In 2015, about 30% of the cases were traced directly to wild bird origins, compared to 85% this year, the USDA told Reuters.

In particular, turkey farms are being examined in hopes of developing new recommendations for preventing infections. The USDA said that more than 70% of the commercial poultry farms in Turkey are infected with the outbreak.

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