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Bird Flu Outbreak in U.S. Dairy Cows Spreads, Impact on Food Supply Low

U.S. Dairy Cows Affected by Bird Flu: What You Need to Know

A Bird Flu Outbreak Affects Dairy Cows in the United States

Since the recent bird flu outbreak in chickens at the nation’s largest egg producer, the virus has expanded to impact more than two dozen herds of U.S. dairy cows across eight states. This strain of bird flu, known as Type A H5N1, has previously affected wild birds but has never been detected in cattle until now. While health officials emphasize that the risk to the public is low, the incident raises concerns. Rest assured, the U.S. food supply remains safe and stable, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Which States are Affected by Bird Flu in Dairy Cows?

At the moment, bird flu infections have been found in 26 dairy herds across the following states: Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and South Dakota. It is noteworthy, however, that genetic analysis of the virus indicates no changes that would increase its transmission to humans, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Impact of Bird Flu on Food Production

Although agriculture officials have imposed restrictions on dairy cattle imports from affected states, the bird flu outbreak has had minimal impact on commercial milk production. While the primary mode of transmission is suspected to be exposure to wild birds, the possibility of cow-to-cow spread cannot be ruled out. Farmers are proactively testing cows exhibiting symptoms of infection such as reduced milk supply and lethargy, ensuring that affected animals are isolated from others on the farms. Fortunately, the cows show signs of recovery within approximately two weeks.

The situation becomes particularly alarming for U.S. egg producers as bird flu has been detected in chickens in Texas and Michigan. Despite the extensive culling of millions of birds, the FDA assures that the risk of affected eggs reaching the market or causing human infections remains low, mainly due to federal inspections and other established safeguards.

Can Bird Flu Be Contracted Through Consuming Milk?

Experts unanimously confirm that there is no evidence to suggest bird flu can be contracted by consuming pasteurized or properly cooked food. Thus, there is no food safety concern associated with this matter. Although people in the U.S. have previously been infected with bird flu, the cases have been isolated. In such instances, close contact with infected cows resulted in mild eye infections or cases of fatigue. In the case of pasteurized and properly cooked milk, the risk associating bird flu is considered extremely low.

Is Grocery Store Milk Safe from Bird Flu?

Consumers can be reassured that milk available in grocery stores is safe from bird flu contamination. Milk from sick cows is not allowed to be sold and must be properly disposed of. Additionally, there is a requirement for milk sold across state lines to be pasteurized. Through the pasteurization process, bacteria and viruses, including influenza, are effectively eliminated, ensuring a safe milk supply for the public.

What About Raw Milk and Bird Flu?

Authorities, including the FDA and the CDC, express a level of uncertainty regarding the safety of raw milk. Limited information is available concerning the possible transmission of the H5N1 virus through raw milk products. Although no herds linked to raw milk providers have reported cases of bird flu in cows as of yet, caution is advised. The agencies highly recommend refraining from making or selling raw milk products, especially those made using milk from symptomatic cows or cows exposed to the infection. It is worth noting that the CDC previously highlighted the risks of raw milk, citing over 200 outbreaks between 1998 and 2018 that sickened more than 2,600 people.

Despite the warnings provided by federal agencies, the bird flu outbreak in commercial cows seems to have spurred an increase in sales of raw milk, as noted by Mark McAfee, owner of Raw Farm USA in Fresno, Calif.

Can Bird Flu Be Transmitted Through Eggs or Meat?

Currently, only dairy cows have been affected by bird flu, with no cases reported in beef cattle. The U.S. witnessed a temporary halt in egg production after bird flu was found in chickens, causing a significant culling of affected flocks. Despite this, no eggs have been recalled, and eggs handled properly and cooked thoroughly remain safe to consume. It is advised to cook eggs thoroughly to minimize any potential risk.

Experts, including Barbara Kowalcyk from the Center for Food Safety and Nutrition Security at George Washington University, stress that while the situation is being closely monitored, the impact on eggs and meat appears to be limited, at least for the time being.

As the bird flu incidents continue to unfold, there is still much to learn, and monitoring efforts are in place to track any potential changes. The Associated Press Health and Science Department’s content is of significant value in maintaining public awareness during this evolving situation.

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