Presented By

A near-record bird flu outbreak means you’ll likely have a harder time finding a Thanksgiving turkey this year—and you’ll probably pay more

November 7, 2022, 7:57 PM UTC
A flock of turkeys
Getty Images

Finding a Thanksgiving turkey this year will be an early Christmas miracle, and you’ll probably pay a pretty penny if you manage to.

The average price of a whole frozen turkey is $2.45 per pound—nearly 75 cents more per pound than last year, according to a Nov. 4 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The reason: a bad season of bird flu that could end up as one for the history books.

More than 49 million birds in 46 states have died as a result of the bird flu so far this year, either because of the virus itself or having been killed to curb exposure of other birds, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a Thursday report.

The largest bird flu outbreak in U.S. history occurred in 2015, in what the agency has called “arguably the most significant animal health event in U.S. history.” That year, 50.5 million birds in 21 states died, according to the CDC. This year’s total isn’t far behind, and already a larger number of states are affected.

The strain affecting birds this year is H5N1, deemed a “highly pathogenic avian virus” by the CDC. Since January, it’s been detected in wild aquatic birds, commercial poultry, and backyard and hobby flocks. Some highly pathogenic avian viruses, known as HPAIs, similar to H5N1 are known to damage multiple organs and kill from 90% to 100% of chickens they infect.

The good news: The virus is currently thought to pose little risk to humans, and only one human case has been reported so far this year, according to the CDC. The patient, a poultry farm worker in Colorado, was treated with antivirals outside of the hospital and suffered only fatigue, according to the World Health Organization. Two cases were reported in poultry workers in Spain last week.

The bird flu has caused a range of illnesses in humans before, from mild to severe. Thus, the CDC urges caution when interacting with birds, both at work and at home. To avoid contracting the bird flu or spreading it to other birds or animals like pets, the agency recommends that people:

  • Avoid direct contact with wild birds when possible.
  • Realize that birds don’t have to look sick to carry bird flu.
  • Don’t touch birds that look sick, or dead birds, without wearing protective equipment.
  • Don’t touch surfaces that might have saliva, mucus, or feces from any type of bird, wild or domestic, and certainly don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth if you do touch such surfaces.
  • Wash your hands after touching birds.
  • Use protective equipment like gloves, an N95 respirator or a well-fitting face mask, and eye protection, if you work with birds.
  • Change your clothes after working with sick poultry and/or after handling wild birds. Throw away your PPE and wash your hands with soap and water.

The USDA reminds consumers to cook all poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165˚F as a general precaution.

Sign up for the Fortune Features email list so you don’t miss our biggest features, exclusive interviews, and investigations.