April 20, 2022

When I headed for the market last weekend, I remembered hearing of the shortage of eggs as we neared Easter.  I always dyed boiled eggs with my son Alex when he was growing up and we were able to hide and re-hide eggs for the next week.  We kept them in the refrigerator, but I am sure it was not a sanitary practice.  This seems to be among the many food customs we “used to do” that are no longer considered safe.  I noticed a father who had opted for plastic eggs and candy to fill them.   I felt sad that he would was not able to participate in the bonding that was more of a part of the egg dying than the hunt ever was.  I had come to purchase eggs for the quiche I was making so I worked my way back to the cold section.  I found the stocker putting the last case of eggs on the empty shelves.  These were cage free eggs that sold for US$4.50 a dozen.  It was only later that I learned of the spread of bird flu.

When I looked online, I found the shortage of eggs was not due to supply chain issues.  Egg prices had doubled nationally in March, according to the Urner Barry Egg Index, due to the drastic measures taken to try to curb spread of bird flu virus (HPAI).  This is the worst outbreak since 2014-2015 and more than 24 million domestic chickens, turkeys, and other domestic birds across 17 states have been killed in the US since February.  No human cases have been documented from this strain of avian flu in the US, and only one has been reported in Europe.  Among birds, avian flu can be deadly and spread rapidly.  Federal rules in the US require the birds to be killed to try to stop the virus.  Response to the bird flu has varied.  Zoos in at least a half dozen states have shuttered aviaries to protect their birds.  Backyard flock owners are keeping their chickens in and trying to keep wild waterfowl out of farm ponds to protect their birds.

After the virus was reported in 41 countries during the latter half of 2021, US and Canadian officials began swabbing live birds and ducks taken by hunters to monitor for it.  The strain spread to North America in late November in great black backed gulls in Newfoundland, where birds sometimes land after being blown across the Atlantic from Europe.  By April 18, the virus had taken flight and had spread to more than 230 counties, in 37 US states, and in at least 6 Canadian provinces.  Maps of the outbreak this spring showed the flu moving along the Missouri River basin, “very clearly on the wings of migrating waterfowl,” said Bryan Richards of the USGS National Wildlife Health Center.  USGS data shows at least 32 species of wild birds have been infected in the US, including bald eagles, snowy owls, swans, and white pelicans.

𝗧𝗛𝗢𝗨𝗚𝗛𝗧𝗦:  Among the latest victims of the bird flu outbreak is the Bald Eagle.  Eagles in 14 states have died after contracting bird flu, and eagles in two other states are suspected of falling ill with avian flu.  According to the USDA, 36 bald eagles have died since February.  Scientists are monitoring avian flu and other pathogens in animals more closely because of the rising threat the viruses could spread to people, or back and forth between people and animals, mutating into different strains as they go.  An example is the covid-19 virus, which was found in a host of captive and wild animals, including lions, tigers, gorillas, cats, dogs, deer, and mink.  Richards commented, “We’ve created opportunities where wildlife, humans and domestic animals literally share time and space.  Pathogens can leverage those opportunities.”  While pathogens leverage opportunities to spread, humans can take action to limit their spread.  Act for others.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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