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Egg prices are surging because of a major disease, and it’s not COVID

April 18, 2022, 6:20 PM UTC

Egg prices are surging in the U.S., and it’s because of a deadly outbreak—but not the one you think. 

The wholesale price of a dozen eggs cost less than $2 on average just four months ago. But according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture last week, a carton of 12 eggs today costs $2.95, and that’s on the rise. Overall, the average weekly price of large eggs is up 44% compared to last year, according to the USDA

The reason? A massive avian flu outbreak has spread through the U.S. poultry population since January. Over the past few months, nearly 27 million chickens and turkeys have been affected by the influenza, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The illness, which leads to respiratory issues, swelling, and rapid death in poultry, has been reported in more than 30 states, the USDA says.  

The avian flu has now spread beyond poultry farms, and is infecting populations of wild birds nationwide. Last week, it was responsible for the deaths of more than 200 birds in a lake in Illinois, 36 bald eagles in as many as 14 states, and an unreported number of birds in at least two U.S. zoos

So far, there have been no cases of avian flu in any humans in the U.S. as a result of the recent outbreak. In March, the CDC said the current bird flu outbreak “is primarily an animal health issue,” adding that it “poses low risk to the public.” 

Still, the bird flu is hurting Americans’ wallets. Along with the surging cost of eggs, the price of wholesale poultry—which rose 4% in February alone—could continue to rise to between 9% and 12% over the course of the year in part because of the flu, and also because of higher fuel prices and other supply chain issues, according to USDA predictions and first reported by NBC News.

The USDA did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment. 

An outbreak worse than 2015?

This is not the first time an avian flu outbreak has affected egg prices in the U.S. In 2015, egg prices increased nearly 80% after more than 48 million chickens were killed during the worst avian flu outbreak in U.S. history. 

But experts say this current outbreak has the potential to be even worse than 2015. 

“We are above and beyond the rate of spread we saw in 2015,” said Grady Ferguson, senior research analyst at agriculture data company Gro Intelligence, in an interview with The Washington Post. “We are two months into the outbreak now, and the safety protocols haven’t worked. I don’t want to be a Chicken Little, but I think it’s going to be worse than last time.”

More than 1.3% of all U.S. chickens and 6% of U.S. turkeys have been affected in the last two months, Ferguson told The Washington Post. During the same period of the 2015 outbreak, the flu had affected just 0.02% of chickens, Ferguson said. 

Another tough break for American wallets

A more devastating avian flu outbreak could mean egg prices continue to rise at the same time the cost of everyday food items have continued to soar in the early months of 2022. 

Inflation rates are currently the highest they’ve been in four decades. Inflation clocked in at 8.5% in March, spurred in part by the war in Ukraine. 

Gas and food were the largest contributors to the jump, and everyday Americans are likely feeling the pinch in their day to day lives. Gas rose 48%, and food prices rose 8.8%. 

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