CHICAGO (NewsNation) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture is looking into vaccines as an option to protect poultry against a deadly bird flu as the country faces its worst outbreak of the virus since 2015.
The disease avian influenza, also known as the bird flu, has killed 22.4 million birds across the nation, affecting 24 states, including more than 100 different flocks since January. And the brunt of loss is being felt by farmers.
“It’s always difficult; farmers are there to raise birds, raise food and feed the nation, so this really is contrary to their natural instincts; it’s very difficult,” said Becky Joniskan, president of the International Society of Precision Agriculture (ISPA).
The warning signs? Birds are not drinking water and becoming lethargic.
“Birds don’t recover from this disease,” Joniska said.
The USDA requires farmers to kill infected flocks. On Friday, Des Moines, Iowa, was hit hard, forcing the extermination of 5.3 million hens and 88,000 turkeys, leaving bird farmers devastated.
“To have a flock be infected and have to go through that process, it really runs counter to who they are and what they do,” Joniskan said.
But where is the flu coming from? Experts believe wild birds are to blame, migrating from Europe and Asia.
“Wild waterfowl fly over the tops of barns and kind of do what birds do, and that gets taken into the intake fans,” Joniskan said.
The bird flu previously struck the U.S. in 2015, killing millions of birds: including chickens, turkeys and ducks.
“I believe we lost 48 million birds in 2015 in the upper Midwest,” Joniskan recalled.
Every strain of the bird flu is different, but experts said with five to six days above 80-degree temperatures, the virus typically dies out. But until then, American bird farmers are bracing for the worst.
Health experts said there is no risk to humans from consuming cooked eggs and poultry. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises Americans to cook to 165 Fahrenheit or higher temperatures to kill bacteria and viruses.
Many consumers are worried that the flu will impact finding eggs and turkey during Easter. But farmers told NewsNation that for every person in the U.S., there is a chicken — about 350 million chickens.
According to experts, we will see the price go up, but shortages should not be an issue.