About 5.3 million laying hens in northwest Iowa will be destroyed after tests confirmed a second outbreak of avian influenza in the state, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Monday.

It’s the largest operation in the nation to be hit with the virus since December, federal documents show. The commercial egg-laying facility, located in Osceola County, more than doubles the number of birds destroyed so far in the country because of the disease.

“It’s one of the bigger farms in the state,” said Bill Northey, Iowa’s secretary of agriculture. “But when there’s an outbreak like this, you have to make sure the disease doesn’t leave.”

Because of avian influenza, the state’s $2 billion commercial egg-laying industry has been on high alert this spring. Iowa, the nation’s largest egg producer, has about 50 million hens and supplies nearly 1 in every 5 eggs consumed in the United States.

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