US Egg Producer Found Bird Flu in Chickens

( – The US’ largest egg producer found bird flu in some of its chickens, leading to a temporary halt in production and the culling of millions of animals. The company, Cal-Maine Foods, states that its eggs are still safe to eat as long as consumers handle and prepare them properly.

Cal-Maine Foods issued a press release on April 2, sharing that its Parmer County, Texas, facility came back positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). The company culled roughly 1.6 million hens and 337,000 pullets. It also sought ways to increase production at other facilities in hopes of minimizing the impact on consumers.

Domestic animals catch the virus from wild birds. Cal-Maine explains that it takes measures to keep its livestock secure, but there’s no way to protect the animals from migrating flocks, which can bring in outside disease. The FDA describes HPAI as highly contagious between birds and often deadly when it infects poultry. Sick chickens occasionally spread the virus to other types of animals as well.

The Texas Department of Agriculture confirmed Cal-Maine’s outbreak. The agency stated that it pinpointed the strain as H5N1 and noted the importance of destroying the infected animals as quickly as possible. The discovery came after the CDC found a case of H5N1 in a Texas dairy worker. The individual is believed to have caught the virus from an infected cow, which presented with conjunctivitis as its main symptom. Humans very rarely catch the virus from livestock.

The USDA recently found other infections in dairy herds in Texas, Michigan, Kansas, and New Mexico. Tests on cattle in Idaho are still in process.

Cows infected with HPAI can present with flu-like symptoms, but the virus can also affect the quality and volume of milk the animal produces. Poultry are less likely to show visible signs of infection, although they may sometimes reduce food intake, produce fewer eggs, exhibit symptoms of mild respiratory illness, and display ruffled feathers.

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