Jan 26, 2023 - Business

As bird flu continues its spread, experts worry

Confirmed bird flu detections
Data: USDA; Map: Simran Parwani/Axios

A highly contagious strain of avian influenza continues to vex the poultry industry and health experts, and is partially to blame for your higher food prices.

What's happening: The disease has affected more than 58 million birds since Feb. 8, 2022, according to the USDA. By comparison, the 2014-15 outbreak impacted 50 million.

  • At least one case of bird flu has been reported in 47 states.

Why it matters: Arkansas is the second-largest producer of chickens raised for meat in the U.S., generating about 5.7 billion pounds annually. NWA is home to the state's largest poultry firms, and Tyson Foods is the biggest poultry company in the U.S.

  • Arkansas has about 2,400 independent farms spread across 53 of its 75 counties.

Driving the news: Health experts are closely monitoring the historic rate of avian flu transmission around the globe, saying they're concerned about its potential spread to humans, Axios' Tina Reed writes.

Be smart: To be clear, U.S. health officials and the World Health Organization say the risk for human infection is low.

  • Bird flu isn't a foodborne illness — you can't catch it by eating properly cooked chicken or eggs.

Yes, but: As birds succumb worldwide, experts say the threat can't be written off, Fortune reported.

  • Some other species have fallen ill — grizzly bears in Montana were euthanized last week after they were found with the disease.
  • A 9-year-old girl in Ecuador was recently sickened by the avian flu; health officials concluded she had been in contact with backyard birds.

What they're saying: The likelihood of human transmission remains very low, but if the bird flu were to make a sustained jump to humans, it would signify the start of a "new global influenza pandemic," Rajiv Chowdhury, senior epidemiologist and professor of global health at Florida International University, told Fortune.

Meanwhile, Instacart reports the average price for a dozen eggs in Arkansas was $4.95 in December, Axios' Kelly Tyko writes.

  • Missouri had the cheapest eggs at $4.24 per dozen.

Of note: USDA estimates put the cost of the 2014-15 outbreak to the federal government at more than $1 billion.

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