CHICAGO, Nov 24 (Reuters) – Bird flu has killed 50.54 million birds in the United States this year, making it the deadliest outbreak on record, data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed on Thursday.
The deaths of chickens, turkeys and other birds represent the worst animal health disaster in the US to date, surpassing the previous record of 50.5 million birds that died in the 2015 bird flu outbreak.
Birds often die after becoming infected. Entire flocks that can exceed a million birds on chicken farms are also culled to control the spread of the disease after birds test positive.
Poultry flock losses have sent egg and turkey prices to record highs, exacerbating economic pain for consumers facing scorching inflation and making Thanksgiving celebrations more expensive in the United States on Thursday. Europe and Britain are also suffering the worst of the bird flu crisis, and some British supermarkets have been rationing egg purchases to customers after the outbreak disrupted supplies.
The U.S. outbreak, which began in February, has infected both poultry and non-poultry flocks in 46 states, USDA data show. Free-living birds such as ducks transmit the virus, known as highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), through 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 U.S. poultry,” said Rosemary Sifford, USDA’s chief veterinary officer.
Farmers struggled to keep the disease and wild birds out of their barns following an outbreak in 2015 after increasing safety and cleaning measures. In 2015, about 30% of cases were traced directly to wild birds, compared with 85% this year, the USDA told Reuters.
Government officials are studying infections on turkey farms, mainly in hopes of developing new recommendations for infection prevention. Turkish farms accounted for more than 70% of the commercial poultry farms infected during 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.
Reportage by Tom Polanski; edited by Jonathan Oatis and Sandra Maler
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