Fragments of bird flu virus in milk

Bird flu virus in milk

Bird flu virus has infected and killed gazillions of birds and cattle in the the United States since March 2024. Recently, there have been several reports on the detection of fragments of bird flu virus in milk and raises a concern on the health risk pertaining to ingestion of infected milk.

What is the bird flu virus?

Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is a deadly and highly contagious disease caused by avian influenza A (H5) and A (H7) viruses and is making livestock, and poultry sick. It is also known as bird flu or avian influenza. The virus is causing fatal sickness in birds and livestock. However, its transmission is humans is infrequent but sporadic cases have been reported.

The virus can infect humans through direct contact with infected birds or virus-contaminated material. Health experts are concerned that it can spread from person to person and can cause severe outbreaks and sickness in humans, with a mortality rate of 60%. The virus can enter the body through the skin, eyes, nose, mouth, or inhalation via contaminated hand. There have been several reports on detection of fragments of bird flu virus in milk and raises a question on the health risk pertaining to ingestion of infected milk.

Current CDC stats on bird flu virus in milk 

According to recent CDC stats (2nd, July, 2024), 136 dairy herds have been affected with the bird flu virus in 12 US states, and it has infected three individuals from direct contact with infected cows. CDC is working in collaboration with USDA and FDA to manage the situation. The samples have been collected from the cows with and without symptoms, and the quality and viral load in the milk is under scrutiny. 

Are fragments of bird flu discovered in milk?

Since the emergence of bird flu in Texas, the FDA has notified the farmers to discard the milk obtained from the infected cows. The milk from infected cows appears thick and yellow and can be visually identified. The milk is separated and discarded at the early stage, so it can’t enter the food chain. 

Recently, the genetic material of the H5N1 virus has been detected in 20% of US dairy products. Polymerase chain test (PCR) detects the virus or viral fragments. The test testing positive for viral particles doesn’t always mean the product poses a health risk. Most dairy products in grocery stores are pasteurized and safe, as per a recent FDA recommendation. 

Almost 99% of all the commercial dairy farms in the US have registered under the Grade A milk program and follow the pasteurized milk ordinance (PMO) that ensures the safety of dairy products.

Are fragments of bird flu discovered in milk a health risk?

Yes, the H5N1 virus present in raw milk can be risky, so you should avoid consumption of raw milk. Most milk available in grocery stores is pasteurized and can be used safely. Pasteurization is a process where milk is heated at a high temperature for a set time to kill and inactivate all the bacterial and viral strains in the milk. H5N1 is a heat-sensitive virus and can be inactivated by the pasteurization process.

According to the CDC, raw milk can be contaminated with harmful germs and can make you sick. Pregnant women should avoid raw milk as the mother and child are at a high of getting an infection.

Can I catch bird flu from milk? 

Yes, you can get bird flu infection from an infected raw milk. A study was conducted where mice fed with infected raw milk developed symptoms of bird flu. You will likely get a symptoms in less than a week after viral exposure. In human to human infection, the incuabtion period is 3-5 days. Pasteurized milk or dairy products pose no health risk and can be consumed safely. 

How long does it take to show symptoms of bird flu in humans?

The incubation period of H5N1 is 7-14 days. According to the CDC’s current stats, three people working in the cow’s field contracted infection from the infected animals in the United States (US). According to the CDC, the symptoms of HPAI include fever, chills, difficulty breathing, redness or itching in eyes, tearing eyes, body aches, and runny or stuffy nose. These are non-specific signs and symptoms common to influenza A and viral infection, but be conscious if you develop these symptoms after milk consumption. 

How long does the bird flu virus live on surfaces?

The ability of the virus to survive varies with the type of material it is present (glass, wood, steel, soil, and chicken feces), temperature, and humidity. It survives for up to 2 weeks in a cool environment, i.e., temperature below 39 degrees Fahrenheit or 4 degrees Celsius, and lasts 24 hours at room temperature. Moreover, low humidity, darkness, and glass and steel surfaces favor its survival, and, in these conditions, it can survive for up to 2 months. 

It persists on human skin for 4.5 hours, people working in fields (contaminated with animal feces) and with direct exposure to poultry and livestock are at the most significant risk. 


From the above discussion and the research carried out by the FDA and CDC, it is concluded that the pasteurized milk from the companies registered under the grade A milk program and following pasteurized milk ordnance is safe for consumption. 

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