Egg prices have more than tripled in some states in the past year. That’s why.

The increase in the price of eggs in the US is hurting household budgets. Americans in recent years have increased the number of eggs they consume while decreasing their intake of beef and venison, according to data from the US Department of Agriculture.

Egg consumption has grown in part because more families are eating them as a major protein substitute, Los Angeles Times reporter Sonya Sharp said CBS News. “Each of us eats about as many eggs as a hen can lay in a year,” she said.

As demand for eggs has increased, U.S. production has fallen due to ongoing an epidemic of avian or “bird” flu. Nearly 58 million birds were infected with bird flu as of Jan. 6, USDA said, making it the deadliest outbreak in US history. Infected birds must be slaughtered, causing a drop in egg supply and a spike in prices.

Families and restaurants are now paying higher prices for eggs as the outbreak affects 47 states.

In California e.g. data shows the average price for a dozen eggs reached $7.37 last week, compared to $2.35 a year ago. The national average price of eggs per dozen wholesale is now $3.30, USDA said last week. The average price of a dozen eggs by U.S. city rose to a record $3.58 in November, according to the latest data available from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Sharp said prices likely won’t drop again until new chickens are born free of the infection and reach egg-laying age. More than 300 flocks of farmed poultry have been affected by the outbreak since last Friday, according to the USDA data.

In New York, grocery store owner Jose Filipe said skyrocketing egg prices have caused many customers to change their spending habits.

“I’ve seen customers gravitate from buying organic eggs now to more conventional eggs, and specifically now, half a dozen. Prices quadrupled in about six or seven months,” he CBS New York’s Jenna DeAngelis said recently.

What is bird flu?

Avian influenza is carried by free-flying waterfowl, such as ducks, geese, and shorebirds, and infects chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, domestic ducks, geese, and guinea fowl. In another major recent outbreak of the disease, it killed more than 50 million chickens and turkeys in 2014 and 2015, while causing economic losses of $3.3 billion, the USDA estimates. The agency is now investigating a potential bird flu vaccine.

Fortunately, the public health risk associated with bird flu remains low, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, cooking all poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165˚F is recommended as a general rule of thumb for food safety.

The price of processed eggs – used in liquid or powdered form in industrial products including salad dressing, cake mix and chips – has also risen, adding to inflationary pressures.

The consumer price index — a closely watched gauge of inflation — rose 7.1% in December from the previous year. Falling prices for energy, commodities and used cars offset increases in food and shelter.

Even with the increase in costs, however, eggs remain relatively cheap compared to the cost of other proteins such as chicken or beef, with a kilogram of chicken breast costing an average of $4.42 in November and a kilogram of ground beef selling for $4.85 , according to government data.

But if egg prices stay high, Chicago resident Kelly Fischer said she’ll start thinking more seriously about building a backyard chicken coop because everyone in her family eats eggs.

“We (with the neighbors) are considering building a chicken coop behind our houses, so in the end I’m hoping not to buy them and have my own eggs, and I think the cost kind of comes into it,” the 46-year-old public school teacher said while you shop at HarvestsTime Foods on the north side of town. “For me, it’s more about environmental impact and trying to buy local.”

— The Associated Press contributed to this report

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