The costly effects of a virulent H5 strain of avian influenza keeps getting worse. Layoffs have begun in the poultry industry as thousands more birds are being slaughtered. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has now confirmed 122 cases of the disease, which can kill a bird in 48 hours (Tweet This). So far, nearly 24 million chickens and turkeys from more than a dozen states have been affected since December.

The mounting numbers top the previous record outbreak from the 1980s, which hit 17 million birds. And it’s still spreading: Both Iowa and Minnesota reported more “probable” cases this week, including two more commercial egg operations that together house an estimated 3.9 million hens. 

Egg producers have been hit hardest. In 2014, 362 million “layer” hens in the U.S. produced 100 billion eggs. With more than 20 million hens now in the process of being culled, nearly 6 percent of the nation’s population has been taken offline. Layer hens are different from “broiler” chickens, which are sold as meat. MORE