CDC Issues Advisory on Raw Milk After Bird Flu Case Reported

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The CDC was responding to a single human case of H5N1 avian influenza in Texas.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised Americans to be wary of drinking raw milk that is “contaminated by birds or other animals with confirmed or suspected” bird flu infections.

The agency, in a statement this week, was responding to a rare human case of H5N1 avian influenza reported in a person at a Texas dairy farm who was presumed to have been infected by sick cattle.

“People should avoid unprotected exposures to sick or dead animals including wild birds, poultry, other domesticated birds, and other wild or domesticated animals (including cattle), as well as with animal carcasses, raw milk, feces (poop), litter, or materials contaminated by birds or other animals with confirmed or suspected HPAI A(H5N1)-virus infection,” said the CDC’s notice.

It further said that people shouldn’t prepare or eat “uncooked or undercooked food or related uncooked food products, such as unpasteurized (raw) milk, or products made from raw milk such as cheeses, from animals with confirmed or suspected” H5N1 infections.

It’s unclear whether the dairy farm was producing, selling, or distributing raw milk or cheese products.

The Texas case is only the second time bird flu has been confirmed in a human in the United States. The first occurred in 2022 in Colorado in a person exposed to infected poultry. In both cases, the infections were mild.

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The Texas farm worker’s only symptom was conjunctivitis, or pink eye. He is being treated with Tamiflu, which is used to treat human influenza, officials said.

The infections are from the same subtype of bird flu that has been infecting wild birds and poultry flocks globally for more than two years, also killing several mammal species that likely contracted the virus from consuming sick or dead birds.

Officials say there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission of bird flu, or namely H5N1, inside the United States.

Other Positive Cases

Currently, there are 11 dairy herds with confirmed positive cases in cattle, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) earlier this week, including seven farms in Texas, two in Kansas, one in New Mexico, and one in Michigan.

“There continues to be no concern that this circumstance poses a risk to consumer health, or that it affects the safety of the commercial milk supply because products are pasteurized before entering the market,” the agency said.

It added that dairies are “required to send only milk from healthy animals into processing for human consumption; milk from impacted animals is being diverted from the commercial milk tank or destroyed so that it does not enter the human food supply. In addition, pasteurization has continually proven to inactivate bacteria and viruses, like influenza, in milk.”

“Pasteurization is required for any milk entering interstate commerce for human consumption,” the USDA said. “FDA’s longstanding position is that unpasteurized, raw milk can harbor dangerous microorganisms that can pose serious health risks to consumers, and FDA is reminding consumers of the risks associated with raw milk consumption in light of the HPAI detections.”

Proponents of raw milk say it’s healthier because it contains more antimicrobials, is easier to digest, and has more amino acids.

CDC Director Responds

On Wednesday, CDC Director Mandy Cohen told ABC News that officials have been prepared for an avian influenza outbreak for the past 20 years.

Federal health officials, she added, have been “working on avian flu and preparing for it [in humans] for 20 years” and that “we’ve invested in our ability to test for it, to prevent it, to treat it.”

“These are the things that reassure me: 20 years of preparation, no genetic changes to this virus, no human-to-human spread and nothing in the virus in terms of adaptations that would make us think it is more adaptive to human spread,” the CDC director said. The federal government is “taking this situation very seriously and closely monitoring it,” Dr. Cohen added.

Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, the head of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told Reuters earlier this week the risk mainly applies to “individuals who are interacting with livestock or other animals that have avian influenza.”

“It’s important to connect to public health and medical care to make sure that you’re being observed. But again, for most people, if you’re not exposed to these animals, the risk is very, very low,” he said.

A total of nearly 900 human cases of avian influenza have been identified since 2003, says the United Nations’s World Health Organization. About half of them have died, the agency says, although it cautioned that nearly all the human cases were linked to contact with infected birds or other bird flu-contaminated areas.
In 2022, a prison inmate in a work program caught it while he killed infected birds at a farm in Colorado. He recovered from the infection, and his only symptom was fatigue, officials say.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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