Grocery stores across the nation all have something in common right now: a lack of chicken on the shelves.

The country is feeling the effects of a shortage of poultry due to a highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza.

Almost 38 million birds in 34 states have been affected by the strain of avian flu, according to data from the USDA.

According to the CDC, this virus occurs naturally in wild bird populations across the world.

While wild birds can carry this virus and often not get sick, the infection of domesticated birds can become deadly.  

“There is just no recovery from it if it infects domesticated birds,” said Christi Miller, communication director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture.

It is hard to pinpoint how exactly the spread to domestic birds occurs. Often, avian influenza is not intentionally spread, said Miller.

The two most common methods of infection are the co-mingling of wild and domesticated birds and contact with droppings of wild birds, said Miller.

Farmers are recommended to be particularly vigilant with biosecurity while the highly pathogenic strain is continuing to spread.

“Be careful of shoes worn into a barn, limit visitors, limit farm-to-farm contact and be careful of sharing tools,” said Miller.

When commercial farms are depopulated due to infection, the USDA and state officials work alongside farmers to help them recover. Commercial facilities are closed and cleaned thoroughly, said Miller. Missouri, like many other states, has programs in place to help farmers financially recover from depopulated birds, said Miller.

While infection in humans is possible, there has only been one positive case of avian flu in humans in the United States, said Stephanie Woehl with the Springfield-Greene County Health Department.

“Infected animal to human is very rare, and infected human to human is even rarer,” said Woehl.

The Department of Agriculture and the Health Department said people need to know avian flu is not a food borne disease.

“The meat and the eggs in store are safe,” said Miller.

Citizens are encouraged to continue to buy the safe products that are on the shelves to support farmers.

“Our farmers and ranchers are very resilient,” said Miller. “We are going to get back to where we were. It’s just going to take some time.”


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