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Colorado infections push HPAI losses above 40 million birds

More than 40 million birds in domestic flocks, mostly chickens and turkeys, have died in the worst outbreak of bird flu since the 2014-15 epidemic, according to USDA data released on Monday. The outbreaks, which have killed 6% of the egg-laying hens in the country, were blamed for an Eastertime spike in egg prices.

Flocks in Iowa and Pennsylvania were hit the hardest by highly pathogenic avian influenza, losing a combined 17.6 billion birds to the viral disease and cullings of infected flocks. Colorado ranked third, with losses of 3.4 million birds, including confirmation last week of bird flu in a laying flock of 1.94 million hens and a flock of 205,000 pullets, both in Weld County, northeast of Denver.

Bird flu, which can be spread by migratory birds, usually is worst during the cold months and fades away with the arrival of warm weather. This year’s outbreaks began in domestic flocks in early February. “High path” bird flu has been confirmed in 369 flocks — 186 commercial and 183 backyard — in 36 states, including Alaska. The USDA has allocated nearly $800 million for fighting HPAI and indemnifying owners of commercial flocks.

The 2014-15 bird flu epidemic killed more than 50 million chickens and turkeys and was “arguably the most significant animal health event in U.S. history” with an impact in the billions of dollars, said the USDA in a 2016 report. HPAI was detected in 211 commercial flocks and 21 backyard flocks. The last case of HPAI was in a commercial flock in Iowa on June 17, 2015. Cleanup and restocking continued into the winter. The USDA paid $200 million in indemnities to owners.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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