Avian flu has been found in more animals and a human, prompting calls for diligence

Authorities say the contamination has spread to the nation's largest egg producer and a 12th dairy herd, but the impact on prices has yet to be seen.
The virus has been detected in the flock of the nation's largest egg producer, resulting in the destruction of nearly 2 million birds. | Photo: Shutterstock

The virus that causes avian flu has been detected in more facilities that produce kitchen staples like eggs and dairy products, raising the possibility of a spike in food costs as supplies diminish.

The most recent contamination came to light Tuesday, when the nation’s largest egg supplier, Cal-Maine Foods, confirmed that the virus had been found within its birds. The company immediately halted production and destroyed nearly 2 million chickens, or 3.5% of its flock.

Eggs currently on the market should pose no risk and none have been recalled, the company said.

The discovery came a day after the U.S. Department of Agriculture added a herd in Iowa to the list of dairy stocks that have been found to harbor highly pathogenic avian influenza, or HPAI. Earlier, the agency announced that it had confirmed the virus’ presence in 11 herds across Texas, Kansas, Michigan and New Mexico.

The situation marks the first time HPAI has been found in dairy cattle.

The department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services, or APHIS, has set up a website for daily updates on where else the virus may have been detected.

The USDA did not report any herd reductions as a result of the contaminations. Cows can usually recover from a bout of avian flu, but their milk output typically drops while the animal is inflicted.

Nonetheless, prices have yet to be affected. “Milk loss resulting from symptomatic cattle to date is too limited to have a major impact on supply and there should be no impact on the price of milk or other dairy products,” USDA said in announcing multiple herd contaminations last week.

Days beforehand, HPAI was found in a herd of young goats being raised in Minnesota. The farm that housed them had destroyed a small flock of chickens in February because they were found to harbor HPAI.

Authorities have stressed that the danger posed to humans by the avian virus is minimal, particularly if products from infected animals are handled and prepped in proper fashion. Cooking an egg, for instance, is believed to destroy the pathogen.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed that an unidentified person in Texas has tested positive for HPAI. The agency said the person had been in close contact with one of the dairy herds that was found to be contaminated. The victim’s one visible symptom was conjunctivitis.

The only other confirmed instance of a human contracting the virus was recorded in Colorado in 2022.

Texas officials issued a health alert Monday to educate the population on how avian flu is manifested in humans. The tell-tale signs include fever, fatigue, a sore throat, headaches, a runny or stuffy nose, diarrhea, vomiting and shortness of breath.

The current version of the flu virus appears to be more contagious than the earlier form, which was known as H5N1. The new form was first detected in North America in 2021 among wild birds.  It has also been found in animals ranging from sea lions to skunks.

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