Have you noticed the price of eggs soaring at your local grocery store? The reputed culprit is an unprecedented outbreak of bird flu in 21 states across the nation. Since December of last year, hundreds of fowl have died after becoming infected with one of three strains of a highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus — H5N1, H5N8, and, mostly, the H5N2 strain. In an effort to prevent the illness from spreading, government authorities have slaughtered more than 48 million birds. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), both commercial and backyard egg-laying flocks in 15 states are affected. Migrating waterfowl such as wild geese and ducks carrying the H5 flu strains have been found in another six states, posing a significant risk to domestic poultry in those areas because the virus is highly contagious. So far, it hasn’t proven a direct threat to humans, but it is taxing their pocketbooks as shortages ensue and prices steadily rise.
Particularly hard hit is the nation’s top egg producer — Iowa. In April and again in June, Governor Terry Branstad declared disaster in 18 of the state’s 99 counties, and the Iowa Department of Agriculture reports more than 31 million birds killed by HPAI or culled as authorities work to control spread of the disease. Overall, nearly 10 percent of the country’s egg-laying hens are dead.