(Reuters) – The U.S. government approved the use of an additional $330 million in emergency funds to help contain the worst avian influenza outbreak in U.S. history, as infected bird cases soared and hundreds of Minnesota poultry workers learned they would lose their jobs.
The funds became available after the federal Office of Management and Budget granted U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s request for additional emergency funds, USDA sources confirmed to Reuters on Tuesday.
Virulent H5 avian influenza strains have spread to 14 states in five months and affected about 24 million birds so far, mostly egg-laying hens and turkeys, according to USDA.
That tally is expected to grow, as U.S. authorities confirm pending cases. The outbreak, which is also affecting two Canadian provinces, shows little sign of slowing.
In Minnesota, the largest producer of U.S. turkeys, state officials said almost 5.5 million turkeys and egg-laying chickens have either died from the flu virus or are set to be killed in an effort to contain the outbreak.
In Iowa, the top U.S. egg producer, state agriculture officials said an estimated 20 million chickens and turkeys have been affected there.
The outbreak’s economic ripple effects are being felt across numerous sectors, from food companies seeing a squeeze on egg supplies, to meat processors flooded with excess poultry products amid export market bans.
The strains pose a low risk to human health, experts say, and no human infections have been identified so far