Inflation isn't the only reason that Thanksgiving turkey you ate Thursday cost so much more than it did last year.
Avian influenza also was a big culprit, so big that the United States experienced a record number of domestic bird deaths this year because of the disease.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the total of 50.54 million deaths in 46 states of birds, chickens, turkeys and other fowl from the disease, also known as the bird flu, surpassed the record of 50.5 million in 21 states that occurred during a bird flu outbreak in 2015.
The American Farm Bureau reported the price of a Thanksgiving turkey rose 21% over last year, to $28.96 for a 16-pound bird. Turkey supplies are at their lowest levels since 1986, Fortune magazine reported.
The disease, which was first detected in Indiana in February, is fatal to domestic birds, but wild birds can be carriers and not appear sick. Because it is highly contagious among the species, all birds in an infected area need to be quarantined and culled to prevent the disease from spreading. Humans can catch the disease, but it poses a low risk, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Wild birds continue to spread [the disease] throughout the country as they migrate, so preventing contact between domestic flocks and wild birds is critical to protecting U.S. poultry," Rosemary Sifford, the USDA's chief veterinary officer, told Reuters.
Iowa has been the hardest-hit state. Fifteen commercial farms in Iowa with turkeys, egg-laying hens and other chickens have been infected this year, with losses totaling more than 13 million birds, The Associated Press reported.
The Iowa Department of Agriculture reported Oct. 31 the disease was detected in a commercial egg farm in Wright County. It was just the second time the disease was detected in the state since May. Most of the infections occurred during the spring migratory season.
"We have been preparing for the possibility of additional outbreaks and are working closely with USDA and producers to eradicate this disease from our state," said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig in a news release. "With migration ongoing, we continue to emphasize the need for strict biosecurity on poultry farms and backyard flocks to help prevent and limit the spread of this destructive virus."
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