A "highly pathogenic" bird flu is expanding across the U.S. as the latest infections were detected in a non-commercial backyard flock (non-poultry) in Suffolk County, New York, according to a statement released by the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
On Saturday, the APHIS confirmed positive tests for the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in what the agency described as a "small, non-commercial backyard flock" on Long Island. Poultry farmers in the area have been told to be on high alert.
"State officials quarantined the affected premises, and birds on the properties will be depopulated to prevent the spread of the disease. Birds from the flock will not enter the food system," APHIS said in a statement.
Despite the U.S. having the "strongest A.I. surveillance program" to monitor disease in commercial poultry operations, live bird markets, and in migratory wild bird populations, other states are reporting outbreaks.
HPAI was recently detected in flocks of birds in Kentucky, Indiana, and Virginia. Poultry farms in those states have begun culling flocks that have been infected with the virus to mitigate spreading.
According to ABC7 New York, "U.S. surveillance efforts have identified the virus in wild birds in recent weeks in New Hampshire, Delaware, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida and South Carolina."
APHIS said no human cases of the avian influenza viruses had been detected in the U.S. The agency reminded consumers who eat poultry to cook the meat and eggs to an internal temperature of 165F to kill the virus.
Culling of infected flocks has yet to tighten supply. Tyson Foods released a statement last week about the troubling situation.
They said its Kentucky farm where HPAI was detected is one of the thousands that raise chickens and won't impact overall supply. The company is taking steps to mitigate the spread of the highly pathogenic virus by "boosting biosecurity measures at other farms in the region, placing additional restrictions on visitors, and continuing to test all flocks before birds leave the farms."
"Tyson Foods' chicken products remain safe: the USDA confirms that avian influenza does not pose a food safety risk to consumers in poultry that is properly prepared and cooked," according to a company statement.
So far, there are no indications (yet) that the U.S. will repeat a 2014-15 bird flu outbreak that caused farmers to cull over 50 million chickens and turkeys and generated $3.3 billion in economic damage.
However, the spread of the HPAI comes at an unfavorable time as supermarket prices for boneless breast on a per pound basis are around $3.726, or a multi-decade high (keep in mind that overall food prices are at record highs). Future supply constraints due to mass cullings could send chicken prices higher.
HPAI appears to be spreading, and the question remains if the U.S. has the outbreak under control. We'll want to keep a close eye on comments from Tyson Foods if there are going to be future chicken wing or nugget supply disruptions.