An outbreak of avian flu is killing bald eagles and raising egg prices.

  • After catching an avian flu strain, at least 41 bald eagles have died in 14 states. Getty Images/Andrei Ciprian Cacuci
  • To stop the virus from spreading, about 27 million birds and turkeys were slaughtered in large numbers.
  • The most dangerous strains of avian flu have fatality rates of up to 90% in hens.

A highly dangerous avian flu strain that has swept the United States in recent months is now affecting the country's national birds, bald eagles.

According to the most recent data from the Department of Agriculture, at least 41 bald eagles have died in 14 states after getting the H5N1 virus. Victoria Hall, executive director of the University of Minnesota's Raptor Center, told The Wall Street Journal, "We are seeing considerable mortality." "The more data we have on what's going on in these populations, the more we'll be able to figure out how to effectively serve them."

Despite the fact that bald eagle populations were once in decline due to pesticides and hunters, they are no longer endangered. In fact, because to decades of conservation work, numbers have been steadily increasing since 2009.

The virus has been found in wild bird flocks in addition to bald eagles, with over 700 positive birds recorded in 31 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bald eagles are raptors, who hunt for live food and scavenge for carcasses, and specialists believe this could be a route of infection. According to Krysten Schuler, co-director of the Cornell Wildlife Health Lab, "if the waterfowl are dying, then eagles can pick it up by eating those dead waterfowl."

A double-crested cormorant struggles and is likely dying of bird flu
On April 13, 2022, a double-crested cormorant struggles and is likely to die of bird flu in Illinois.

The USDA has also found the strain at many poultry farms since January, driving up the price of eggs and poultry. As part of state containment efforts to prevent the spread of the avian flu, nearly 27 million hens and turkeys were slaughtered en masse.

Birds are at danger from this new strain of bird flu. Despite the fact that symptoms from other strains can range from mild to severe, the most dangerous kinds of bird flu in hens have mortality rates of up to 90%, according to the CDC. More research is needed to determine how this new strain differs from others, but doctors believe it is both severe and highly transmissible. The H5N1 virus, which causes neurological and respiratory problems in birds, kills them in just two days.

Despite the fact that flu can sometimes cross animals and infect humans, the CDC reports that humans are not at an increased risk of infection from this strain. So yet, just one human case has been documented: a guy in England who reared birds and was asymptomatic. No one has been infected in the United States.

People in places where the strain has been found should refrain from using bird feeders to prevent birds from congregating and spreading the virus, according to experts at the Raptor Center.

Julianna Lenoch, a veterinary epidemiologist and USDA's national wildlife disease program coordinator, told Audubon, "This is a virus to take seriously." She went on to say that government institutions such as the Department of Agriculture will monitor the flu outbreak in the aim of restricting its spread. "If we can avoid it, we just don't want any more introductions."

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