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CDC report on bird flu reinforces dangers of consuming raw milk

May 2, 2024

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) journal reports the H5N1 bird flu virus was found in cats that died after drinking raw milk from infected cows, reinforcing the dangers of feeding unpasteurized milk to children.

“This report makes a strong case that mammals can contract the virus by this route,” said Sean T. O’Leary, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, chair of the AAP Committee on Infectious Diseases. “While there have been no known cases of human transmission of H5N1 from raw milk, it’s certainly conceivable that it could happen, and this is a highly fatal virus not just for cats but for humans too.”

More than half of a Texas farm’s domestic cats that drank contaminated cow’s milk died in March, according to the CDC report (Burrough ER, Emerg Infect Dis. April 29, 2024, Several died three to four days after the cows first became sick, and two were found dead five days after, with no signs of injury.

Young children are among the groups most at risk of getting sick from raw milk, which is legal to sell for human consumption in some states. Aside from possible transmission of H5N1 from contaminated milk to mammals, unpasteurized milk also can transmit bacteria, including Campylobacter, Salmonella, Escherichia coli, Listeria, tuberculosis and Brucella.

The AAP, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and CDC recommend against drinking and eating raw milk products.

“I would strongly discourage anyone from drinking raw or unpasteurized milk,” said Dr. O’Leary, who added there likely is no risk of contracting H5N1 from pasteurized milk.

The FDA reported May 1 that preliminary test results on commercially available milk, cottage cheese and sour cream did not detect any live, infectious samples of the virus.

“In addition to preliminary results released late last week on an initial set of 96 retail milk samples, these results reaffirm our assessment that the commercial milk supply is safe,” the FDA said.


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