CHICAGO, Nov 24 (Reuters) – Bird flu has killed 50.54 million birds in the United States this year, making it the deadliest outbreak in the country’s history, data from the US Department of Agriculture.
The death of chickens, turkeys and other birds is the worst animal health problem in the United States disaster to date, surpassing the previous record of 50.5 million dead birds during an outbreak of avian flu in 2015.
Birds often die after being infected. Entire flocks, which can exceed a million birds in laying chicken farms, are also slaughtered to control the spread of the disease after a bird tests positive.
Poultry flock losses have sent prices for eggs and turkey meat to record highs, adding to economic hardship for consumers facing runaway inflation and making Thursday’s Thanksgiving celebrations more expensive in the United States. Europe and Britain are also suffering their worst bird flu crises, and some British supermarkets egg of rationed customers post-outbreak purchases disrupted supplies.
The outbreak in the United States, which began in February, has infected flocks of poultry and non-poultry birds in 46 states, according to USDA data. Wild birds like ducks transmit the virus, known as highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), through their droppings, feathers or direct contact with poultry.
“Wild birds continue to spread HPAI across the country as they migrate, so preventing contact between domestic flocks and wild birds is critical to protecting American poultry,” said Rosemary Sifford, veterinarian in head of the USDA.
Farmers have struggled to keep the disease and wild birds out of their barns after stepping up safety and cleaning measures after the 2015 outbreak. In 2015, around 30% of cases were directly linked to the origin wild birds, up from 85% this year, the USDA told Reuters.
Government officials are studying infections with turkey farms, especially in the hope of developing new recommendations to prevent infections. Turkey farms account for more than 70% of commercial poultry farms infected with the outbreak, the USDA said.
People should avoid unprotected contact birds that appear sick or dead, although the outbreak poses a low risk to the general public, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
Reporting by Tom Polansek; edited by Jonathan Oatis and Sandra Maler
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