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Bird flu: is milk a safe food?

That thebird flu you risk being the next big pandemic, many have said. Often, unfortunately, unheard, or at least underestimated. A sign that Covid has taught us too little, once the emergency has passed. Yet, that seemed to be in many ways a sort of warning, it was thrown largely to the wind, if it is true that today we risk even more with the avian epidemic that travels around the world at incredible speedsand which risks, sooner or later, making the jump to species, arriving at infecting humans with a virus which, in highly pathogenic forms, causes a sudden illness to arise, «followed by a rapid death almost in 100% of cases”, says the Istituto Superiore della Sanità. Even worse than Covid, therefore.

Will bird flu become a pandemic?

There are many scholars who believe there is a high risk that avian flu will also become a problem for humans. «According to epidemiologists, there are a series of elements that make it H5N1 the favorite candidate for a next pandemic”we read on the website ofHigher Institute of Health. The problem, exactly as it was for Covid, is the jumps in species. It is true that here and there in the world some human beings have become infected with avian flu (and have even died) but the cases recorded so far are cases of direct transfer from infected poultry to people.

«Of the 15 subtypes of avian viruses, H5N1 circulating since 1997 has been identified as the most worrying due to its ability to mutate rapidly and acquire genes from viruses that infect other animal species», writes the Istituto Superiore della Sanità. «Since the beginning of 2003, H5N1 has made a series of species jumps, acquiring the ability to also infect cats and mice, thus turning into a much more worrying public health problem. The ability of the virus to infect pigs has long been known, and therefore promiscuity between humans, pigs and poultry is known to be a high risk factor.”

A high risk factor, therefore, they seem to be above all intensive farming (as Giulia Innocenzi also rightly pointed out): that is where the new epidemic could explode, especially after that Avian flu was found in American milk for the first time in March this yeara sign that it has also infected cattle.

Is the milk we drink safe from avian flu?

Older cows from Texas and New Mexico have been found positive for the H5N1 strain, and so it turned out to be their milk. The situation, strangely, has not thrown the population into panic, neither the American nor the European one, even if globalization with Covid has already had the opportunity to show the speed with which everything moves. Nevertheless, the situation appears to be incredibly underreported: the milk of sick animals has been destroyed, but how many cases are not yet diagnosed? In May, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported cases at forty-two different cattle farms in nine states. But when the Food and Drug Administration sampled commercial milk, it found that one in five samples contained genetic material from the H5N1 virus. Which, in all likelihood, means that the virus is much more widespread, and that many cows may be asymptomatic.

From the outset, U.S. health officials were keen to point out that the country's commercial milk supply is safe, and that the risk to people remains low. Based on what they said in the aftermath of the discovery, frankly, is yet to be understood.

Even today, however the World Health Organization assesses the public health risk from H5N1 avian influenza as lowhowever advising the population not to drink raw milk, but exclusively pasteurized, given that pasteurization (i.e. heating milk to 72 degrees for at least fifteen seconds) has proven effective in inactivating the virus of H5N1 avian influenza. The viral material found in commercial milk, in fact, has not been shown to be infectious.

Raw milk – that which has not undergone any thermal process, and which is sold freshly milked – is instead a potential risk factor, in America certainly, but in all likelihood also in Europe, given the rapidity with which avian flu travels.

Future developments remain to be seen, but what is certain is that It would be worth reflecting on: on nutrition, but also on the type of industry we fuel with our consumer choices.

Source: Vanity Fair

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