The birds compromise nearly 10 percent of Iowa's egg-laying poultry population, according to the Associated Press. However, officials are concerned that the current strain could decimate important flocks in states where the virus has been reported.
The bird flu strain H2N2 has been reported in poultry farms in at least 12 states. Easily spread via migrating birds, the virus has not infected any humans but can quickly decimate a flock in just a few days.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert from Vanderbilt Medical Center, said the goal is to interrupt the transmission of the virus so it doesn't spread further.
"[Officials] are responding by killing 5 million [egg] layer hens," Schaffner said of Monday's announcement. "They want to interrupt transmission to the other 45 million hens in Iowa. This is similar to what’s been done on a large scale in Hong Kong."
While this current strain has not yet infected any humans, Schaffner said researchers are wary of bird flu since if it mutates, the disease can potentially lead to a global pandemic. A person infected with bird flu will have similar symptoms to the seasonal flu but will likely be at a higher risk for having complications or dying from the disease, Schaffner noted.
"At rare times this bird flu virus picks up genetic capacity to be transmitted from person to person, that’s when you get a big new pandemic," said Schaffner, who stressed the virus is not a problem for consumers who are worried about picking up eggs and poultry at the grocery store.
Currently, a main concern for officials is not letting the virus decimate agriculture, especially in Iowa, which produces 20 percent of the nation's eggs, according to the AP.
"It's a huge challenge for this producer and highlights the importance of biosecurity and other producers trying to take steps to limit the spread of this disease," Dustin Vande Hoef, a spokesman for Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey, told the AP.