How worried should Americans be about the bird flu outbreak?

FDA warns against consumption of raw milk due to outbreak among dairy cows

Stars Insider

03/05/24 | StarsInsider

HEALTH Disease

Two outbreaks of avian flu in the United States caused rising concern among health officials after it was confirmed that a human had been infected with the H5N1 virus—the first known instance of a human catching bird flu from a mammal. A recent outbreak among dairy cow herds in nine different states has led the FDA to warn against drinking unpasteurized milk. Raw milk, as it's called, isn't heated at high temperatures to remove pathogens. Health officials have always warned against drinking raw milk due to the heightened risk of illness, but the practice is legal in 30 out of 50 states.  It's still favored by many who believe it has greater health benefits than pasteurized milk, although US scientists say there's no evidence to support these claims. "Our consumers don't like the FDA. If the FDA says to do something, they will do the opposite," said Mark McAfee, owner of Raw Farm, the largest producer in the US. 

Initial testing seems to suggest that the pasteurization process kills the H5N1 virus and only leaves behind particles. A nationwide survey of pasteurized milk found that 20% of the samples contained H5N1 particles. This suggests that the likelihood of unpasteurized milk containing the virus is significant. Officials have warned against consuming raw milk until they've determined whether or not the virus can be transmitted to humans this way. So far, the investigation has revealed that many farm cats who drank milk from H5N1-infected cows have died. Some experts believe that there have likely been many undetected cases of humans contracting bird flu, and have criticized the state departments for their limited testing thus far. 

While scientists stress that the risk to public health is low, this latest development once again highlights the potential threat posed by this highly contagious infection. So, how concerned should we be?

Click through and find out more about why this latest case of bird flu is especially alarming.

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