Bird flu effects may be felt locally

It sounds like something out of a horror movie: tens of thousands of turkeys, chickens and other birds being killed to prevent further spread of the bird flu. 

Thankfully, the two reported outbreaks in Illinois, one in wild geese in Will County and the other in a non-poultry backyard flock in McLean County have not reached this severity, said Tasha Bunting, Illinois Farm Bureau’s associate director of commodities and livestock programs.  

This does not mean Monroe County is entirely unaffected by the virus, however. 

Avian influenza, or the “bird flu,” is a contagious and deadly virus for poultry and wild birds alike. The exact strain determines the seriousness of the illness, Bunting said. 

“Highly pathogenic avian influenza virus strains are extremely infectious, often fatal to chickens, and can spread rapidly from flock to flock,” Bunting said. “Unfortunately, the strain we are experiencing now is the more infectious version.” 

Per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the bird flu does not pose an immediate public health concern and – as of Friday – there have not been any cases detected in humans in the country. 

The USDA said humans cannot contract the avian flu from eating properly cooked poultry and eggs. 

While humans may not need to worry about falling ill with avian influenza, the illness can pose a headache when raising birds and even when grocery shopping. 

Bunting said those who raise birds should be taking precautions to protect their flock, including reviewing biosafety plans and updating them as necessary. She added it’s especially important to prevent contact with wild birds and their droppings, as the flu can spread from wild birds to domestic ones. 

This can be done by keeping the birds someone is raising indoors as much as possible. 

Symptoms such as increased flock mortality, less water and feed consumption, less egg production and respiratory problems such as coughing or sneezing should be reported to the Illinois Department of Agriculture at 217-782-4944 or the U.S. Department of Agriculture at 866-536-7593, Bunting said. 

In past avian flu outbreaks, the price of eggs and most other poultry products increased. 

NPR presented an interesting caveat to this, stating that during the 2014-2015 outbreak, prices for poultry products “geared toward the export market,” such as leg quarters actually dropped as some countries banned importing U.S. poultry.

Given inflation driving food prices up across the board, the bird flu’s impact on poultry products during this outbreak is a concern of many consumers.

“Wholesale broiler chicken prices were already at their highest level in at least 20 years on high consumer demand during the post-pandemic recovery,” Gro Intelligence noted in a mid-March report. 

Should outbreaks create a shortage of eggs, chicken and turkeys, prices could rise further. Given Illinois does not produce much of these products compared to other states, flocks being infected and destroyed across the country may impact prices in local supermarkets, Bunting said. 

“Since Illinois is not a large egg or poultry production state, we may see impacts from other outbreaks in other areas show up in Illinois,” Bunting said. “For instance, egg and chicken availability may be limited for a short time at grocery stores as chicken and egg producers work to decontaminate infected premises.”

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Madison Lammert

Madison is a reporter at the Republic-Times. She has over six years of experience in journalistic writing. Madison is a recent graduate of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville; she graduated summa cum laude with a degree in mass communications. Before graduating and working at the Republic-Times, Madison worked for SIUE’s student newspaper, The Alestle, for many years. During her time there she filled many roles, including editor-in-chief. When she is not working, she likes to spend time with her dog and try new restaurants across the river.
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