Emergency declared in Colorado after bird flu outbreak at egg facility

1.78 million chickens will be killed after Gov. Jared Polis declares emergency

By Rae Hodge

Staff Reporter

Published July 11, 2024 10:22AM (EDT)

Eggs in a carton (Getty Images/Stefania Pelfini, La Waziya Photography)
Eggs in a carton (Getty Images/Stefania Pelfini, La Waziya Photography)

An avian flu outbreak at a Colorado commercial egg facility prompted Gov. Jared Polis to declare a disaster emergency Tuesday, allowing the facility to receive state assistance. As reported by ABC affiliate Denver 7, officials say that 1.78 million chickens will also have to be killed after samples submitted to Colorado State University from the producer tested positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI).

“Why you're seeing [bird flu] more in northern Colorado is because we have a big concentration of livestock operations in this area. So we're seeing it in domestic poultry and then also cattle," said Dr. Kristy Pabilonia, who leads the lab, in an interview with the outlet. “Whether that's commercial poultry or backyard flocks is really devastating because of that high mortality rate ... With birds, the response is typically to depopulate them because they are very sick and they're not going to survive influenza.”

The state veterinarian of Colorado has asked local poultry farmers to submit a health report on their flocks, and has issued a quarantine order in parts of Weld County, where the facility is located, to restrict bird shipments. More than 6 million birds have reportedly been affected by HPAI since the outbreak first began in early 2022, and Pabilonia said that cattle in the state have also been impacted. The crossover the virus has made from birds to mammals has long been worrying scientists who warn these mutations could jumpstart a pandemic like COVID.

Although bird flu has impacted 145 dairy farms in 12 states, Colorado is leading the nation for reported HPAI outbreaks at dairy farms, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Humans too are catching this virus, with the fourth human case reported last week, also in Colorado.

As Keith Poulson, director of the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, told Salon earlier this week, "we really need to pay attention to this virus; we can't let it continue to be endemic in our dairy herds." But clearly poultry farms are still just as vulnerable to HPAI as this crisis continues.