(NEXSTAR) – The USDA is warning that a “highly pathogenic avian influenza” the agency has already identified in three states could spread rapidly and wreak havoc on the poultry industry if it’s not contained.
Last week the bird flu was found in a flock of commercial broiler chickens in Fulton County, Kentucky, as well as a backyard flock of birds in Fauquier County, Virginia, the United States Department of Agriculture said in a press release Monday.
The virus was also identified in a group of commercial turkeys in Dubois County, Indiana, earlier this month. All 29,000 turkeys in that flock were killed to prevent the spread of the virus.
The same fate seems to be planned for the affected chickens in Kentucky and Virginia identified last week. “State officials quarantined the affected premises, and birds on the properties will be depopulated to prevent the spread of the disease,” said the agency.
Birds from either flock “will not enter the food system,” the USDA added.
If the virus spreads widely and starts to impact more commercial poultry farms, the price of eggs, chicken and turkey would likely be affected. That would be bad news for consumers already facing inflated food prices. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found food prices were up 7% in January 2022 compared to one year prior.
A 2015 outbreak of avian influenza led producers to kill 33 million egg-laying hens in Iowa, the nation’s leading egg producer, and 9 million birds in Minnesota, the nation’s leading turkey producer, with smaller outbreaks in Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin. The disease caused egg and turkey prices across the country to soar for months, with the cost of eggs up 61% at one point and prices for boneless, skinless turkey breasts rising 75% between May and July 2015.
“It’s definitely considered a period of high risk now that we have a confirmed case of highly pathogenic avian influenza in the commercial poultry industry,” said Dr. Denise Heard, a poultry veterinarian and vice president of research for the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association. “I feel positive that we can tackle this situation better and I have my fingers crossed that this will be an isolated case, however, I would hope for the best and be prepared for the worst.”
There have been no confirmed cases of the avian influenza infecting humans, the USDA said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.