In year two of US bird flu, 58 million bird have been slaughtered

WASHINGTON D.C.: After more than 58 million birds were slaughtered to limit the spread of the ongoing avian influenza outbreak, the cost to the US government has reached some $661 million, and consumers have felt the effects of rising prices for eggs, chickens and turkeys.

As well as the cost of the government response, farmers who raise poultry are reported to have lost more than $1 billion.

With the spring migratory season looming, there is no end in sight for the US bird flu outbreak as it enters its second year.

In the past, the virus has been able to survive through the heat of summer, leading to a rise in cases in autumn. But the outbreak is already more widespread than the previous major outbreak in 2015.

"The past year has been devastating for the turkey industry as we experience, unequivocally, the worst HPAI (highly pathogenic avian influenza) outbreak in the industry’s history," noted National Turkey Federation spokeswoman Shelby Newman, as quoted by the Associated Press.

During the current outbreak, 58.4 million birds have been slaughtered on more than 300 commercial farms in 47 states, with only Hawaii, Louisiana and West Virginia not having reported cases of bird flu.

Iowa, the largest egg producing US state, leads the list with some 16 million birds slaughtered.

According to the latest government figures, in January egg prices rose to $4.82 a dozen from $1.93 in the previous year, while the price for a pound of chicken breast was $4.32, down slightly from the previous fall when the price peaked at $4.75, but up significantly from the previous year when the price was $3.73 per pound.

The number of birds slaughtered peaked last spring, at almost 21 million in March.

University of Georgia virus researcher David Stallknecht stressed that as turkeys and chickens may have developed some immunity to the virus, there is hope that the outbreak will ease in spring.

"We recommend all producers redouble their efforts to protect their birds through good biosecurity practices," said Lyndsay Cole, spokeswoman for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the agency leading the government’s response, as quoted by the Associated Press.

Bird flu is not considered a significant threat to human health, and cases of transmission to people are rare. Cooking poultry at 165 degrees Fahrenheit will also kill the virus.