KANSAS CITY, MO. — The recent discovery of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in Midwest egg laying flocks has resulted in the destruction of millions of birds and contributed to sharply higher egg product prices.

The US Department of Agriculture and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship confirmed a positive case of HPAI in Buena Vista county in a commercial egg laying flock on March 18. A case in a commercial turkey operation was confirmed in the same county on March 6. An estimated 5.3 million chickens and about 50,000 turkeys were destroyed in the two cases. Another outbreak in Iowa on March 10 was on a farm in Taylor County with 916,000 laying hens. Cases also were reported in Warren and Pottawattamie counties in Iowa. About 3 million laying hens previously were destroyed in a commercial egg laying flock where HPAI was detected in Wisconsin. 

Breaking egg and egg product prices moved sharply higher in March, which trade sources attributed at least in part to concerns about the spread of HPAI. A massive outbreak in 2014-15 resulted in the loss of more than 50 million birds, accounting for about 12% of the US table egg laying population and 8% of the turkey population, and sent egg and egg production prices sharply higher for a time. The industry does not expect such a large outbreak this year because control measures at and between poultry operations are much stricter than in 2014-15. At the same time, the industry also acknowledges that the spread of the virus by migratory birds cannot be prevented and should subside once the migration period ends.

“The United States has the strongest avian influenza surveillance program in the world,” the USDA said. “Through our ongoing wild bird surveillance program, APHIS (the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) collects and tests large numbers of samples from wild birds in the North American flyways. It is not uncommon to detect avian influenza in wild birds, as avian influenza viruses circulate freely in those populations without the birds appearing sick. In addition to monitoring for avian influenza in wild bird populations, APHIS monitors for the virus in commercial and backyard birds.”

An estimated 12.6 million chickens, turkeys, ducks and possibly other species have been or will be destroyed since HPAI was first reported in early January. In addition to Iowa, the nation’s largest egg-producing state, and Wisconsin, cases of HPAI in wild birds, backyard and/or commercial flocks also have been detected in South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky, Virginia, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Maryland, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine and York, according to the USDA. The USDA reports the first outbreak of HPAI in a commercial flock in state but does not necessarily report subsequent outbreaks in the same state.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the HPAI cases do not present an immediate concern to public health and no human cases of the virus have been reported in the United States. Cooking poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165˚F kills bacteria and viruses, the CDCP said. However, no meat from the destroyed birds goes to the human food chain.