The United States is now all but certain to beat its 2015 record of losing 50 million birds to highly pathogenic avian flu outbreaks. That became apparent during just two days late this month when seven states reported new bird flu outbreaks, raising the tally to 47.7 million birds that have succumbed to the novel influenza virus since February.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is always quick to downplay the human health risks from bird flu, but those risks are not non-existent. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there have been 494 reports of novel influenza A viruses in humans since 2010. Only one is associated with the HSN1 bird flu in the United States.

Avian influenza, or bird flu, is an infectious disease involving Type A influenza viruses. Wild aquatic birds spread the disease worldwide, often involving domestic poultry from both commercial and backyard blocks. The CDC says bird flu viruses don’t normally infect humans, but sporadic infections do occur.

The largest recent on-the-farm outbreaks that put the U.S. close to topping its previous record came in Utah, South Dakota, and Nebraska. When a flock is infected with the fast-moving virus, the only option is to kill all the birds that may have become exposed to it.

That means the recent toll has included 103,200 turkeys from two farms in Sanpete County, Utah; 34,900 commercial game birds in York County, Nebraska; and 3,800 breeding birds in Roberts County, South Dakota. These were added to the losses that now total 47.7 birds in 42 states.

The number of outbreaks did slow over the summer, but the pace increased during the fall.

APHIS figures bird flu outright took about 5 million birds between February and July, with the millions more being taken by the organized culling that follows the outbreak reports. Europe, too, has culled 50 million poultry to control the outbreaks it experienced in 2022.

Attention is being turned to reducing the high load of the virus in the wild bird population, which is spreading the disease to commercial flocks on both sides of the Atlantic.

The totals in the United States through Oct. 25 include 568 infected flocks, 247 being commercial and 321 backyard ventures. The small backyard flocks have lost about 3,000 birds, while commercial operations account for the rest of the 47.72 million total.

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