United States: Preliminary results of tests run by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) show that pasteurization is working to kill off bird flu in milk, the agency said Friday. 

The FDA said, “This additional testing did not detect any live, infectious virus. These results reaffirm our assessment that the commercial milk supply is safe,” as CBS News reported. 

More about the preliminary assessment by the FDA 

The FDA’s findings are more extensive than the agency’s earlier information, where it indicated that the samples it had taken from these retail milks were a little more than 20 percent positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza or the HPAI H5N1 strain. 

Also, this week, the US Department of Agriculture imposed testing requirements on cows, which follow an increasing number of turkeys and lentil growers that are confirming positive for this virus. 

Authorities Confirm Safety of Pasteurized Milk, Despite Bird Flu Concerns in the US. Credit | AP
Authorities Confirm Safety of Pasteurized Milk, Despite Bird Flu Concerns in the US. Credit | AP

Positive results from PCR tests can be acquired in milk too, for instance, because some fragments of the virus no longer pose a risk after pasteurization; that is what the government officials and experts state and that is why they ordered additional experiments to figure out whether or not the virus found in the milk was still infectious. The examination results confirmed this was the case. 

The agency added, “The FDA is further assessing retail samples from its study of 297 samples of retail dairy products from 38 states. All samples with a PCR positive result are going through egg inoculation tests, a gold standard for determining if the infectious virus is present,” as CBS News reported. 

About the tests performed by health authorities 

The health authorities point out that cows whose raw milk has visible symptoms have been discarded before entering the supply chain, but cows could still be spreading the virus in their milk after apparently recovering and without the visible symptoms. 

With the initial testing of the retail powdered infant formula and toddler formula, the FDA said that they were all negative for the virus. 

We just do not know whether FDA tested only other food items or all the food products. Such an agency’s spokesperson did not provide an answer to the question whether dairy products, including cream, were involved in the survey which is carried out in a different way from pasteurization. 

All beef cattle from the USDA have not been detected with this virus; meanwhile, the question of whether this department has surveyed cattle products for the virus is still uncertain. 

This year, thus far only one human infection has been reported, in a person who was near dairy cattle in Texas and may have caught it from them. 

Despite the growing evidence from supporting the safety of processed (pasteurized) milk, a third challenge is encountered by authorities of health systems which is the fact that dairy industry workers might not be aware if there was an exposure to the virus. 

Unlike poultry birds, which just do not survive or are carried out for culling after H5N1 infections, cows are rather maintained until they regain health, which normally comes after a month or two. 

The USDA, in its Friday statement, said that deaths and neurological disease had been “widely reported” in cats around dairy farms. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Sonja Olsen reports, “We know that the illness in cattle can go on for several weeks. So that puts workers at an ongoing risk. And thus, the period for monitoring will be longer,” as CBS News reported. 

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