Health Officials Warn of Elevated Bird Flu Levels Found in Raw Milk Across United States, Prompting Concerns for Food Safety

Health officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued a warning after detecting ‘very high concentrations’ of bird flu, scientifically known as H5N1, in raw milk. Raw milk, which bypasses standard pasteurization processes, has been identified as a carrier of the virus, prompting concerns regarding food safety.

Pasteurized Milk Deemed Safe Amidst Outbreak

Despite the alarming discovery, officials assure the public that pasteurized milk, commonly found in major retailers, remains safe for consumption. However, the surge of bird flu cases in cows and chickens across the United States has heightened apprehensions surrounding foodborne illnesses and the spread of infectious diseases.

Growing Outbreaks Pose Threat to Public Health

The CDC reports outbreaks in 29 farms across eight states, underscoring the severity of the situation. Dr. Darin Detwiler, a former FDA and USDA food safety advisor, advises caution, urging Americans to avoid consuming rare meat and runny eggs amidst the ongoing outbreak in cattle. Improperly cooked animal products pose a higher risk of carrying viruses and bacteria, amplifying the need for vigilant food safety practices.

Expanding Impact of Avian Influenza

Avian influenza A(H5N1) has witnessed a significant rise in outbreaks among birds and mammals since its emergence in 1996. The virus, responsible for the deaths of millions of poultry, has now extended its reach to include cows and goats, a surprising development that has puzzled experts.

Human Case of Bird Flu Linked to Cattle

In a startling turn of events, a dairy farm worker in Texas became the second individual in the United States to contract bird flu. The patient exhibited mild symptoms, primarily inflammation of the eye, and is currently isolated and receiving treatment with the antiviral drug oseltamivir, commonly known as Tamiflu.

Transmission Dynamics Under Scrutiny

Dr. Wenqing Zhang, head of the WHO’s global influenza program, highlights the concerning pattern of transmission, noting instances of bird-to-cow, cow-to-cow, and cow-to-bird transmission during the ongoing outbreaks. Investigations are underway to determine the virus’s survivability in milk and its potential implications for public health.

Safety Measures Urged Amidst Concerns

While the Texas health department assures the public that commercial milk remains unaffected, emphasizing the necessity of pasteurization to eliminate the virus, Dr. Zhang underscores the importance of safe food practices. Consuming only pasteurized milk and milk products is advised to mitigate the risk of exposure to harmful pathogens.

Global Efforts to Combat Bird Flu

With over 463 deaths recorded from 889 human cases across 23 countries, the WHO emphasizes the need for preparedness and vigilance. While the recent surge in human cases has predominantly involved mild symptoms, health authorities remain vigilant, urging state health officials to enhance operational plans and monitor potential outbreaks.

Potential Vaccine Development

Dr. Zhang reassures the public of ongoing efforts to develop candidate vaccine viruses tailored to combat the H5N1 strain. Close to 20 influenza vaccines licensed for pandemic use could be adapted to address specific virus strains in the event of a pandemic, offering hope for effective prevention and control measures.

CDC’s Vigilant Response

The CDC reaffirms its commitment to monitoring and responding to bird flu outbreaks, acknowledging the seriousness of the situation. While the risk of human-to-human transmission remains low, the agency remains proactive in preparing for potential scenarios, including the development and deployment of targeted vaccines if necessary.

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