SPOKANE, Wash. - The price of eggs has been climbing across the nation for nearly a year, due in large part to spread of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) among commercial flocks.
The current outbreak began in spring of 2022 and remains active. This outbreak of bird flu has officially broken the previous record for number of birds affected. The former record was the 2015 outbreak, which saw 50.5 million birds in 21 states affected.
In the Jan. 12 update, CDC reported 57,832,114 commercial or domestic poultry had been affected in 47 countries, and 5,821 infected wild birds had been detected across all 50 states.
"It's a very serious disease for birds," said Kevin Snekvik, director of the animal diagnostic lab at Washington State University.
Snekvik and his colleagues work on the frontline to detect viruses and other zoonotic diseases. Currently, they're working closely with the Department of Agriculture and the USDA on testing. This strain of HPAI, called H5N1, is particularly aggressive, moving through a wide variety of fowl.
"What's we've seen from prices of eggs and shortages of eggs is where we've had incursions of the virus into those production facilities," he explained. "Whole flock houses, thousands of birds, dead within literally days."
In Iowa, over 10,000,000 poultry from two commercial egg layers were affected in March 2022, while other commercial egg layers have lost over a million birds each affected across the country. Just last month, a commercial flock in Franklin County, Washington lost over a million birds, greatly reducing the supply not just to Washington state residents, but to Alaskans as well. According to the Alaska Public Media, eggs were selling in Alaskan stores at prices as high as $9 per dozen, with many shelves completely bare.
And it isn't just birds that test positive for the virus affected. When one bird in a flock tests positive, it is standard practice to euthanize, or cull, the entire flock from which a bird tests positive to stop further spread to other birds in the area, pets, and even people. The CDC clarifies, however, that spread to or between humans is very rare in the U.S.
"One thing to take away is, it's a low risk for humans, but a high-risk for birds and production facility, as well as backyard birds."
In Spokane county, one backyard flock was culled in May after H5N1 was positively detected. Domestic fowl can be kept within Spokane city limits with some restrictions. A single chicken requires at least 1,000 square feet of space, and roosters and peacocks are only allowed in rural areas.
Backyard flocks have been one way Spokanites have dealt with the egg shortage, opting to produce their own. However, hens stop laying eggs in the winter without extra measures taken to keep conditions warm and cozy enough.
For those who come in contact with birds, whether wild or domestic, there are some measures residents should take to ensure their pets and people are protected.
HPAI spreads through direct contact, fecal contamination, transmission through air, environmental contamination, and shared water sources. It can be transmitted from wild to domestic birds, and vice versa. Both wild and domestic waterfowl can be infected without showing symptoms of the disease.
Commercial poultry farmers and backyard flock owners are encouraged to remain vigilant, and implement biosecurity measures and surveillance. Some best practices recommended by the USDA include:
- Restrict traffic onto and off of your property.
- Disinfect shoes, clothes, hands, egg trays or flats, crates, vehicles, and tires.
- Avoid visiting other poultry farms or bird owners. If you do, be sure to change clothes and clean your hands and shoes before entering your own bird area
Deaths or illness among domestic birds should be reported to the WSDA Avian Health Program at 1-800-606-3056.
For deceased or sick wild birds, please use the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife’s online reporting tool.