New York Daily News: A bird flu outbreak that has raised prices of eggs, chicken and turkey in stores across the US has cost the federal government roughly $661 million, the Department of Agriculture says.

More than 58 million birds have been slaughtered in the US to limit the spread of the virus that causes bird flu, as the ongoing outbreak enters its second year. According to one agricultural economist, poultry farmers could already have lost more than $1 billion.

“Like much of the rest of the world, the United States continues to experience outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 virus in wild birds and poultry,” said Dr Tim Uyeki, head of the influenza division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The current virus has been circulating among birds in different parts of the world for many years and it continues to evolve into different groups, called clades.

The current clade of H5N1 “appears well-adapted to spread efficiently among wild birds and poultry in many regions of the world,” Uyeki said.

In the US, it has been detected in all 50 states and caused outbreaks in more than 300 commercial farms in 47 states.

“The past year has been devastating for the turkey industry as we experience, unequivocally, the worst HPAI outbreak in the industry’s history,” National Turkey Federation spokeswoman Shelby Newman said.

Unlike in past outbreaks, this version of the virus has found a way to adapt to the heat of the summer, which led to an increase in cases last fall.

The previous bird flu outbreak in the US, in 2015, wasn’t as widespread as the one that started last year. In the 2015 outbreak, around 50 million chickens and turkeys were slaughtered on farms in 15 states.

However, the 2015 outbreak remains the nation’s most expensive animal health disaster, costing the federal government nearly $1 billion and the poultry industry roughly $3 billion.

Despite the damage to the economy, health officials say avian influenza doesn’t pose a threat to humans.

Seven human cases associated with poultry exposures during the current outbreak have been reported across the world since January 2022, including one in the U.S.

In four of these cases, no respiratory symptoms were reported. In three cases, severe disease occurred, including one death.

However, a “small number of sporadic human infections with H5N1 virus does not change the risk to the general public, which CDC currently considers to be low,” Uyeki said.

With News Wire Services

Top Feature Photo: Red Star chickens feed in their coop at Historic Wagner Farm in Glenview, Ill – Erin Hooley/AP