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8 Things You Should Know About the Bird Flu Epidemic

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The U.S. is in the midst of the worst outbreak of the highly pathogenic avian influenza—otherwise known as HPAI or bird flu—on record. Since it was first detected in December 2014, the deadly H5 strains have caused the mass culling of millions of birds, devastating poultry and egg farmers all over the country. Here are eight things you should know about the outbreak and how it might affect you.

The fast-spreading bird flu has wiped out nearly 50 million birds. Should you be concerned?
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

1. How many birds have been killed?

To date, more than 47 million birds have been killed, a shocking 80 percent of which are egg-laying hens. It has also been detected in commercial and backyard turkeys, chickens and other types of poultry and, most recently, wild geese. The numbers have escalated to an unimaginable degree—it was only two months ago when there were fewer than 1 million reported cases, the Washington Post pointed out. You can check the latest numbers on this web page from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

2. How many states is it in?

So far, the bird flu has struck 21 states in 298 sites, particularly in the Midwest due to its abundance of commercial farms. Egg-producers in Iowa, the top egg-producing state, have been hit the hardest. Iowa's Gov. Terry Branstad declared a state of emergency on May 1 due to the rising toll of the outbreak. Minnesota and Wisconsin have also declared states of emergency.

3. Where did it come from?

The USDA told TIME that some of the strains currently seen in the U.S. outbreaks originated in Asia, spread via migratory fowl and then mixed with other bird flu strains in North America. What remains a mystery, however, is how the viruses are "getting into large production facilities, where birds are kept indoors under rigorous biosecurity protocols," Mother Jones noted.

Contaminated water or feed is also a suspect, as well as the practice of keeping "tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of animals together in cramped, waste-covered quarters, [who are] fed an unnatural and unhealthy diet, and unable to spend time outdoors or engage in any of their natural behaviors," as Dr. Joseph Mercola pointed out on his popular natural health site.

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4. How serious is it?

The USDA told TIME while the high number of birds slaughtered during this outbreak seems very high, it's still "considered a small percentage of the overall U.S. poultry population." According to the agency, in 2014 the U.S. poultry industry produced 8.54 billion broilers, 99.8 billion eggs and 238 million turkeys.

5. If I keep birds, how can I tell if mine are infected?

According to TIME, turkeys and chickens will stop eating or drinking, and appear lethargic (they will die shortly after that). They also might look like they are stargazing or twisting their neck. For egg-laying hens, they may lay fewer eggs. Housebound birds are not particularly at risk for contracting avian flu, but pet owners should not allow them contact with wild birds.

6. Will it increase poultry or egg prices?

No (or at least not yet) for poultry prices, but definitely yes for eggs. According to Harvest Public Media, bakers and restaurants are especially feeling the pinch, as liquid egg prices have shot up 240 percent in some badly affected areas since early May. This means the bird flu could increase the price of anything made with eggs such as baked goods, pasta and other food items. In some grocery stores, the price of a carton of eggs has tripled to up to $3, the publication reported. Some grocery chains in Texas are even rationing eggs. The U.S. has even started importing eggs from The Netherlands to ease shortages.

Dozens of countries have imposed total or partial bans on U.S. poultry and egg imports since the outbreak, including China and South Korea, which accounted for $428.5 million in export sales of U.S. poultry meat and products alone, according to Reuters.

7. What about specialty eggs?

There hasn't been an increase in prices for cage-free and organic eggs because these specialty-egg chicken houses haven't been hit as hard, as egg industry analyst Brian Moscogiuri Urner Barry told the Associated Press.

8. Can I catch the bird flu?

No. There have been no cases of human transmission but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released an official advisory to warn health workers and clinicians of the potential for human infection. Currently there is no human vaccination for H5 strains but efforts are underway to develop the vaccine in case the need arises.

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Aerial view of Ruropolis, Para state, northen Brazil, on Sept. 6, 2019. Tthe world's biggest rainforest is under threat from wildfires and rampant deforestation. JOHANNES MYBURGH / AFP via Getty Images

By Kate Martyr

Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest last month jumped to the highest level since records began in 2015, according to government data.

A total of 563 square kilometers (217.38 square miles) of the world's largest rainforest was destroyed in November, 103% more than in the same month last year, according to Brazil's space research agency.

From January to November this year an area almost the size of the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico was destroyed — an 83% overall increase in destruction when compared with the same period last year.

The figures were released on Friday by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), and collected through the DETER database, which uses satellite images to monitor forest fires, forest destruction and other developments affecting the rainforest.

What's Behind the Rise?

Overall, deforestation in 2019 has jumped 30% compared to last year — 9,762 square kilometers (approximately 3769 square miles) have been destroyed, despite deforestation usually slowing during November and December.

Environmental groups, researchers and activists blamed the policies of Brazil's president Jair Bolsonaro for the increase.

They say that Bolosonaro's calls for the Amazon to be developed and his weakening support for Ibama, the government's environmental agency, have led to loggers and ranchers feeling safer and braver in destroying the expansive rainforest.

His government hit back at these claims, pointing out that previous governments also cut budgets to environment agencies such as Ibama.

The report comes as Brazil came to loggerheads with the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) over climate goals during the UN climate conference in Madrid.

AOSIS blasted Brazil, among other nations, for "a lack of ambition that also undermines ours."

Last month, a group of Brazilian lawyers called for Bolsonaro to be investigated by the International Criminal Court over his environmental policies.

Reposted with permission from DW.

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