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The Largest Egg Manufacturer in the U.S. Has Detected Bird Flu

Chickens at the Somali Poultry Farm in Mogadishu, Somalia. Original public domain image from Flickr
Source: The African Union Mission in Somalia/Wikimedia Commons

The largest producer of fresh eggs in the U.S., Cal-Maine Foods, Inc., has detected bird flu in one of its facilities.

On Tuesday, the company announced that it would be halting production at the Parmer Country facility in Texas after discovering the disease. The company has lost about 1.6 million laying hens and 337,000 pullets, which is about 3.6 percent of its flock, as a result of the outbreak. In the meantime, Cal-Maine Foods will rely on other facilities in the U.S. to “minimize disruption to its customers.”

Bird flu, also known as avian influenza, is a respiratory disease that primarily infects birds. Caused by influenza A virus, bird flu is highly contagious among birds and can cause serious illness and death in poultry flocks.

In the last few years, the bird flu virus has become a growing concern in the U.S. With one of the largest egg facilities halting operations and a fifth state reporting the virus in dairy cows, farmers are becoming worried about their livestock. The virus has devastated wild birds and marine mammals, including seals and sea lions. The U.S. is not the only place to struggle with the virus. Researchers discovered that penguins in Antarctica and at least one polar bear in the Arctic contracted the bird flu.

Avian viruses are quite common and have been circulating since the beginning of time. Some strains of the virus have not caused much harm, but others are considered deadly. However, there are many different strains of the bird flu virus, and a few of them can infect humans.

Earlier in the week, the Texas Department of State Health Services announced that a man had contracted bird flu through an outbreak of the disease in dairy cattle. Reportedly, the virus has infected the man, making him the second person in the U.S. to contract it in the last two years. The patient reported only one mild symptom and is recovering.

Most forms of the virus do not easily spread from person to person. Human infections with bird flu viruses have occurred when people have had close contact with infected birds or their environments.

While the CDC says the likelihood of someone getting bird flu is very low, there are still a few ways to monitor yourself. Symptoms of the virus in humans can range from mild (fever, coughs, sore throat, muscle aches) to severe (pneumonia, respiratory failure, death). Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for bird flu, but antiviral medication can help reduce the severity of the illness in humans.

The best way to prevent bird flu is to avoid contact with sick birds or their environments. People who work with poultry should wear protective clothing and equipment. The CDC reports that eating the eggs of infected birds is unlikely to infect humans.

The only effect humans could face is the prices of eggs soaring as they did in late 2022 and early 2023. After a spike in the bird flu virus, farmers were forced to eliminate millions of turkeys and egg-laying hens, most likely spread through a wild bird. While egg prices are low now, this recent shutdown might cause some issues in the coming weeks.


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