23 million birds killed in wave of avian influenza

by Trinity Cardinal

Lauren Dempsey, MS in Biomedicine and Law, RN, FISM News 


The U.S. is facing the deadliest outbreak of avian influenza since 2015. The virus was first reported in Indiana in February of this year and has since killed millions of birds. Currently, 23 million birds have died from the virus or have been culled, or killed, to stop the spread. This process is usually monitored by veterinarians or USDA officials. Iowa has been specifically hit hard, losing about 13 million chickens and turkeys.  

There is further concern about the economic impact of this farming crisis. The average grocery store price of chicken breast and eggs is increasing, something that the USDA expects to continue. Yet USDA officials remain hopeful that this outbreak won’t be as disastrous as the 2015 avian influenza breakout, which killed 50 million birds and impacted over 200 commercial and backyard farms across the country, costing the government and the poultry industry billions of dollars.  

Avian influenza, or the bird flu as it is commonly called, refers to a viral infection caused by a Type A virus that naturally spreads among wild birds. This can then be transmitted to domestic and other wild birds, however, it rarely infects humans. According to the CDC wild aquatic birds can carry the virus asymptomatically, spreading the disease through nasal secretions, saliva, and feces. Birds such as ducks, storks, and shorebirds are considered reservoirs for avian influenza A viruses. Birds become infected when they come in contact with areas that have been contaminated with the virus.

There are two types of avian influenza: low pathogenicity avian influenza (LPAI) and highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), which is determined by the molecular structure of the virus. LPAI occurs naturally and rarely causes severe illness, most domestic poultry will have little or no symptoms. However, HPAI is extremely contagious and is often fatal for domestic poultry like chickens and turkeys. 

The majority of the reported cases this year have occurred on the East Coast and in the Midwest with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reporting that the virus has spread to at least 24 states and has impacted multiple commercial and backyard flocks. 

The agency recommends practicing good biosecurity to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus and spreading disease throughout domestic flocks. The Defend the Flock Program stresses the importance of implementing important practices to protect birds such as hand hygiene, limiting visitors to the property, changing clothes, wearing protective equipment, and monitoring for any symptoms of illness. Symptoms in sick birds include lethargy, poor appetite, nasal discharge, sneezing, or coughing, and in some cases, sudden death. The USDA encourages individuals to report sick or dying birds to a veterinarian or to the USDA. 

The CDC recommends that eggs and chicken be cooked to a temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill bacteria and viruses and any products from sick animals should be avoided. There are no current treatments or vaccines for avian influenza, which kills most birds within days of infection.