The United States is in the grip of yet another devastating avian flu outbreak, with millions of chickens and turkeys falling prey to a new strain of the virus. This latest epidemic is even more deadly than the 2015 outbreak, which killed over 50 million birds, making it the worst animal-health event in U.S. history.
The H5N1 subtype of the virus has proven to be alarmingly resilient, surviving through the summer months when avian flu typically ebbs. The virus has infected flocks in 42 states since February, twice as many as in 2015. Despite farmers' best efforts to boost cleaning and security in their barns, the virus has spread with alarming speed, resulting in a record number of poultry cullings.
This year's outbreak is unique in that it is affecting a broader range of wild birds than in previous years, and these birds seem to be carrying the virus for longer periods of time. The goose/Guangdong lineage of the H5N1 subtype is spreading rapidly in Europe, where nearly 50 million poultry have already been culled. The United States is monitoring wild birds for avian flu in four migration paths, up from two previously, but officials warn that the virus could be present in wild birds for the foreseeable future.
The impact of this avian flu outbreak has been devastating. Export bans, lowered egg and turkey production, and record-high prices have hit consumers hard, exacerbating the economic pain of soaring inflation. The U.S. holiday season is likely to be marred by a shortage of these staples, which will no doubt drive up prices even further.
The tenacity of this virus has caught many in the industry off-guard, and officials warn that the threat of infection could persist until the summer of 2023. Despite their efforts to contain the outbreak, it seems that the virus is one step ahead, proving to be a formidable foe that is unlikely to be conquered anytime soon.