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Could There Be Bird Flu in Milk You Have in Your Fridge? Experts Say It’s Likely!

Posted in Food Safety,Our Blog on April 29, 2024

Could there be bird flu in milk you have in your fridge? Experts say it is likely!

In a recent report from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a survey of retail milk across the United States showed startling results.

Sampling revealed that one in five samples identified remnants of bird flu in milk with higher concentrations of positive samples in regions where dairy cattle N5N! outbreaks have been reported.

What is Bird Flu?

The bird flu in milk that has hit the news and store shelves is a Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), commonly known a bird flu.

This bird flu is highly contagious and deadly for poultry. It can also infect other animals. As we have recently seen in cows. A problem that has hit the dairy industry hard.

Much like the infection in humans, the “highly pathogenic” aspect of the virus characterization refers to the impact in birds – not necessarily for cows.

Bird flu viruses generally do not affect humans. However, sporadic human infections have occurred. Usually in those working in the poultry industry.

Even in cows, minimal symptoms are observed. Primarily reduction in milk production.

FDA Finds Bird Flu in Milk

An FDA study assessing retail samples from 297 dairy products across 38 states revealed that genetic material associated with the bird flu virus was found in milk. These types of tests can detect if the virus was present in the dairy products but cannot determine if the virus is alive.

Inactivated, or dead virus, poses no problems to humans. Experts expect that the pasteurization process will effectively kill any bird flu in milk before it makes it to the food supply.

However, they cannot be sure without additional testing.

Additional Testing on Bird Flu in Milk

The FDA is conducting additional testing on samples that tested positive for bird flu. This type of test is known as an egg inoculation test, and it is the gold-standard when it comes to identifying live virus.

A small amount of the sample is injected into a live poultry egg that is about seven to 12 days old. The egg is incubated for a few days and then analyzed.

The egg is opened and analyzed for changes. If a live virus was in the sample, it would grow and infect the egg embryo. In these cases, the embryo will either have cell damage, identifiable pocks or lesions can be seen on the egg’s membranes, or the embryo will be dead.

If none of this is found, the virus was inactivated and not infectious. It means that the sample of bird flu in milk is not a threat to humans.

Limited Results Available Are Promising

While more samples need to be tested, the FDA has received some preliminary reports of egg inoculation tests.

“This additional testing did not detect any live, infectious virus. These results reaffirm our assessment that the commercial milk supply is safe.”

This is good news!

Most milk consumed in the United States is pasteurized. Meaning, it is heated to a temperature that is supposed to kill any bacteria, virus, or other bad bugs that might be present in the milk.

What About Infant Formula?

Commercial milk is used to make most infant and toddler formulas. These highly regulated products for our most vulnerable population were also tested.

A genetic analysis on formula samples showed no viral fragments or virus was detected.

Even more good news!

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is Monitoring Human Cases

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to monitor for human cases of bird flu.

Epidemiologic reports indicate no uptick in human flu cases and no cases of bird flu (H5N1) so far; with the exception of one known case.

The one known case had direct contact with infected cattle, experienced mild symptoms, and was quarantined to help prevent further spread.

FDA Continues to Ask Scientists the Hard Questions About Bird Flu in Milk

While preliminary findings are optimistic, the FDA continues to ask scientists more questions to better stay ahead of a potential pandemic and have an understanding of what can be done to combat it.

These include identifying whether there is a risk of infections to humans that consume milk orally. And whether or not existing pasteurization methods effectively inactivate the virus.

More work on how long the virus can survive in raw milk and determining the infectious dose of the virus is underway.

While the major concern is retail milk distributed in public commerce, other dairy products, such as cheese made from raw milk, are also on the radar.

Scientists Look for Virus in Other Animals

Could the bird flu that has infected cows also infect other animals? That is what scientists want to know. So far, we know that some humans with extreme exposures could be at risk. Obviously other birds in the area are at risk.

Scientists have even found cats that have tested positive for the virus.

During the investigation on affected dairy farms, the CDC’s Influenza Division identified 6 positive H5N1 bird flu tests in cats. One in Ohio, two in New Mexico, and three in Texas.

Now, scientists are looking at other species to check for the virus. Regular influenza surveillance is monitoring commercial pigs. Additional testing on feral pigs is also in the works.

Is There a Vaccine on the Horizon?

Could we see a bird flu vaccine soon? Research is underway.

So far, scientist have seen good results for two candidate vaccines. Viruses change over time, and these changes would prompt the need for ramped up vaccine production.

Officials are monitoring certain “cues,” such as changes in mammalian transmission, human-to-human spread, and clusters of cases to make those calls.

But they stand ready.

Experts say that the first wave of vaccine production could provide several hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses. A second wave could ramp up to 10 million doses.

Seasonal Flu Vaccine Producers Can Make Bird Flu Vaccines

Established seasonal flu vaccine producers already have a licensed platform in place, allowing them to pivit and adapt to including an H4N1 bird flu vaccine.

This may, however, effect availability of seasonal flu vaccines. A bridge to cross another day.

Stay in Touch with Make Food Safe!

If you’d like to know more about food safety topics in the news, like Could There Be Bird Flu in Milk You Have in Your Fridge?, check out the Make Food Safe Blog. We regularly update trending topics, foodborne infections in the news, recalls, and more! Stay tuned for quality information to help keep your family safe, while The Lange Law Firm, PLLC strives to Make Food Safe!

By: Heather Van Tassell (contributing writer, non-lawyer)