Why Are Eggs so Expensive? Bird Flu Is Causing a Continued Egg Shortage

If you've ever looked at your grocery bill and winced, there's a reason: eggs are growing in price thanks to a shortage caused by bird flu.

Lizzy Rosenberg - Author

Mar. 28 2024, Updated 9:27 a.m. ET

Woman shopping in egg aisle at the grocery store.
Source: Getty Images

Over the last few years, diners, bakeries, and consumers across the country have found themselves in a bit of a bind due to an ongoing egg shortage. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, prices have been unthinkably high. As of March 2024, the egg shortage has continued due to a worldwide bird flu (H5N1) outbreak.

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Many struggle to find a carton for less than $3, and unfortunately for those living in food deserts, finding alternative egg options can be difficult, and sometimes even more expensive. Let's unpack why there is an egg shortage, if humans can contract bird flu through their consumption of eggs, and how the bird flu is affecting not only birds, but other animals as well.

Chickens in a chicken coop.
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What's causing the egg shortage?

According to CNBC News, the egg shortage is caused by an ongoing outbreak of avian flu, which worsened in 2022 and 2023. Egg prices reached record highs in 2023, with some places selling a carton of large eggs for $4.82. After a brief

Thankfully, by December, those numbers fell to $2.51 per carton, but it's likely consumers could face a rise in prices again.

A University of Maryland study, which was published to the science journal Conservation Biology on April 19, 2023, warned consumers and business owners alike that this strain in particular seemed to be spreading like wildfire, and it could lead to another zoonotic outbreak.

"A highly pathogenic avian influenza has been spreading in the U.S., making headlines as the price of eggs soared at the start of the year and fears of the next zoonotic pandemic creep into popular media," reads a University of Maryland study.

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According to NPR, the bird flu is often lethal, or unfortunately, infected birds have to be culled, as to not spread it to other birds.That's why egg shortages, and therefore, rising egg prices, almost always tend to be a result from the deadly avian disease.

A farmer wearing all white organizes eggs into cartons.
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Can humans contract the bird flu through egg consumption?

If you do choose to buy eggs during the current avian flu outbreak or beyond, you don't need to worry about contracting the bird flu as a human being.

According to The American Journal of Infection Control, H5N1 is not a blood-borne pathogen. That means touching the egg shells will most likely not result in any sort of infection. If you're cooking your eggs properly, you won't be able to contract it from eating the eggs, either.

Humans can get bird flu from interacting with birds, though a vaccine is in the works. According to the World Health Organization, as of 2023, only 8 cases of the H5N1 bird flu have been reported in humans since 2021, and scientists continue to study the disease.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported on Feb. 12, 2024, that the first human infections of H5N1 of the year were recorded in Cambodia after patients came into contact with dead birds.

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Brown chickens congregate at a farm.
Source: Getty Images

In 2024, milk from sick dairy cows has tested positive for avian flu.

According to USA Today, dairy cattle in Texas and Kansas have tested positive for bird flu. Specifically, the virus was found in unpasteurized samples of milk from the sick cattle.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, alongside the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and CDC, are investigating the illness in other states such as New Mexico. In this instance, migratory birds are believed to be the source of the infection.

What is causing the avian flu outbreak?

The bird flu is a disease spread through birds poop, saliva, or through contaminated food and water, according to World Economic Forum. Since it was first discovered in the 1990s, it's been considered to be highly contagious. So for birds in close quarters (aka poultry raised for meat or eggs), it's a really, really big problem.

As previously mentioned, entire flocks are being culled, because it's so contagious and deadly. And with more farms, results in the disease spreading even farther.

This article, originally published on April 28, 2023, has been updated.

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