In 2014, migratory birds carrying highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5 infections brought the disease to the United States, sparking an outbreak that has affected more than 21 million egg-laying hens in Iowa alone, according to IOWA Public Radio. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Protection reports that as of May 20, 2015, 20 states in the country have reported outbreaks of the HPAI H5 virus, causing concern that national supplies of eggs are at risk.
“Today, a dozen processing eggs costs roughly $2.26,” IOWA Public Radio reports. “In mid-April that same dozen cost 64 cents.”
USDA poultry economist Alex Melton told media, “When there is a scare in any sort of national market for any commodity, you often see a sharp increase in price followed by a tapering as people are are able to take more stock and get more information.” He adds that prices are beginning to level out following the latest spike.
There are many strains of avian influenza. Typically, North American strains are considered low pathogenic, but combined with Asian strains that have proven deadly for both wild and domestic poultry, they are considered highly pathogenic. Currently, the risk of human infections is low, but not zero.
“While no human infections with these H5 viruses have been reported to date, there is concern that these viruses could cause illness in humans, as genetically similar H5 influenza viruses (e.g., H5N1 virus in Asia and other parts of the world) have caused severe illness in the past among people, most of whom had prolonged and close contact with infected birds,” the CDC notes in a recent release. “CDC’s public health efforts are geared to decreasing the risk of human infection with these newly identified H5 viruses.”
Avian influenza is spread through the feces and bodily secretions of infected poultry and is highly contagious. The CDC recommends using influenza antiviral drugs to control the outbreak and reduce infections and spread among humans, though other measures, such as maintaining highly sterile environments in areas where wild poultry reside or domestic poultry are being raised will help to reduce the virus’ spread.
Flu.gov makes other recommendations as follows:
“You cannot get highly pathogenic H5N1 virus infection from properly handled and cooked poultry and eggs. When preparing poultry or eggs:
Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw poultry or eggs
Clean cutting boards and other utensils with soap and water to keep raw poultry from contaminating other foods.
Use a food thermometer to make sure you cook poultry to a temperature of at least 165o F.
Cook eggs until whites and yolks are firm.”