Misconceptions About Bird Flu and Raw Milk

On April 1, the World Health Organization reported the first case of avian influenza (H5N1) transmission from a mammal to a human—a Texas cattle worker contracted bird flu from an infected cow. Although his symptoms were mild, consisting of pink eye, any virus “jumping species” to humans is concerning.

Health authorities began monitoring individuals in regular contact with cattle and poultry, and the CDC recommended protective equipment and reporting any illnesses. The virus was also found in milk, but pasteurization kills it. Naturally, health authorities strongly advise against drinking unpasteurized milk. Ironically, this has led to a surge in raw milk consumption.

Following the discovery of bird flu in milk, sales of unpasteurized, “raw” milk spiked, increasing by 21% to 65% compared to the same period last year, according to NielsenIQ. Mark McAfee, owner of Raw Farm USA in Fresno, California, explained to the Associated Press, “Anything that the FDA tells our customers to do, they do the opposite.” This defiant behavior is concerning.

Some raw milk advocates argue that it is safe, but consuming potentially diseased milk is risky. No one has contracted bird flu from drinking milk yet, but that hasn’t stopped people from trying. McAfee told the LA Times that “his phone has been ringing off the hook with ‘customers asking for H5N1 milk because they want immunity from it.’”

Are People Trying to Get Bird Flu?

The logic behind attempting to catch bird flu to build immunity is flawed. This approach is akin to a vaccine but uncontrolled, untested, and potentially harmful. Matthew Motta, who studies health misinformation at Boston University, explains, “It’s not that people are stupid or ignorant… they’re motivated to reject it on the basis of partisanship, their political ideology, their religion, their cultural values.”

The Importance of Pasteurization

Pasteurization is a crucial process that involves heating milk to 161 F for 15 seconds, killing most bacteria, yeast, molds, and viruses. This practice has been in place since the late 19th century and has significantly reduced milk-borne illnesses. In the 1920s, milk-borne pathogens accounted for about a quarter of illnesses in the United States; they are nearly unheard of today.

Despite its proven benefits, some people believe raw milk is superior. The Raw Milk Institute claims raw milk is more nutritious and can help with lactose intolerance, asthma, eczema, and allergies. However, their evidence is anecdotal and lacks scientific support.

Raw Milk and Legislation

The legality of raw milk sales varies by state. In California, it is legal to buy and sell raw milk, while in Alabama, it is outlawed for human consumption. Recently, Iowa, Louisiana, and Delaware have moved towards legalizing the sale of raw milk, citing benefits for dairy farmers and the concept of “food freedom.”

The Risks of Drinking Raw Milk

While I support freedom of choice, the recent detection of bird flu in milk complicates the issue. Although there are no reported cases of bird flu transmission through milk or human-to-human transfer, both are possible. Each new host increases the chance of virus mutation, potentially leading to a more contagious strain.

Positive Steps in Response to Bird Flu

Despite the challenges, the rapid response from governmental agencies is reassuring. The Agriculture Department, the CDC, the FDA, and the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response have implemented measures such as testing cattle and providing PPE. These actions help mitigate the risk of virus transmission and reduce the need to repeatedly explain the dangers of consuming infected milk to those who prioritize their perceived rights over public health.

Exit mobile version