Bird flu kills a record 50.54 million birds in the United States

Bird flu has killed a record 50.54 million birds in the United States this year, the US Department of Agriculture said Thursday. The number of poultry deaths, including chickens and turkeys, is the worst animal health disaster on record in the United States, surpassing the previous record of 50.5 million poultry deaths from bird flu in 2015.

Birds often die after infection. After a single bird tests positive, millions of birds on laying hen farms are culled to control the spread of the disease.

That led to record price increases for eggs and turkey, adding to the pain for consumers facing high inflation and adding to the cost of Thanksgiving celebrations on Thursday. Europe and the UK are also experiencing the worst of the bird flu crisis, with some British supermarkets limiting the number of eggs they can buy after bird flu disrupted supplies.

The US outbreak of bird flu in February infected poultry and non-poultry birds in 46 states, according to the USDA. Wild birds such as mallards transmit the “highly pathogenic avian influenza” (HPAI) virus through droppings, feathers, or direct contact with poultry.

“Wild birds continue to spread ‘highly pathogenic avian influenza’ across the country as they migrate, so preventing contact between domestic and wild birds is critical to protecting America’s poultry,” said Rosemary Sifford, USDA’s chief veterinary officer link.

Farmers increased safety measures and cleaning after the 2015 outbreak in an effort to rid their farms of disease and wild birds. About 30 percent of cases in 2015 were directly attributable to wild bird species, compared with 85 percent this year, the US Department of Agriculture told Reuters.

Government officials are looking specifically at infections on turkey farms, hoping to develop new recommendations for prevention. Turkey farms account for more than 70 percent of commercial poultry farms infected with bird flu, the USDA said.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people should avoid unprotected contact with birds that appear sick or dead, even though the risk to the public from bird flu is low.

(This article is based on a Reuters report.)

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