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MDHHS warns Michigan residents about consuming raw milk amid bird flu outbreak

Posted at 4:24 PM, Apr 18, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-18 18:04:01-04

(WXYZ) — The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is cautioning residents about the dangers of drinking raw milk amid the bird flu outbreak. 

The Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza has been detected in dairy farms in four Michigan counties.

I am getting a lot of similar questions from my patients. What I've noticed is that there's often confusion between raw milk and pasteurized milk.

First of all, pasteurized milk is safe to drink. That’s because pasteurization involves heating milk to a specific temperature for a certain amount of time. And what this does is it kills harmful germs present in the milk.

This includes bacteria like E. coli, salmonella, listeria, or Campylobacter, as well as parasites and viruses like the bird flu. Back when pasteurization became widespread in the 1950s, it dramatically reduced foodborne illness in the general population.

Now, raw milk on the other hand comes straight from the cow. It is not pasteurized, therefore, it has not been heated to kill disease-causing germs. So, does this mean drinking raw milk could transmit bird flu to people? According to the Food and Drug Administration, there is limited research and information available, so they cannot definitively confirm this possibility.

However, scientists have known for a long time that raw milk and its products, like cheese and ice cream, can harbor harmful germs. And this poses serious health risks to those who consume them.

Milk can become contaminated in several ways such as:

  • Improperly sanitized equipment used during milking, storing or transporting
  • Infections within the dairy animal's udder
  • Presence of diseases in dairy animals, even if they show no symptoms
  • Germs from the environment including animal feces or skin

Now, good safety practices reduce the risk of germ contamination in raw milk, but they cannot eliminate risk.
That being said, most healthy people can recover from illnesses caused by consuming contaminated raw milk or products. Common symptoms include diarrhea, stomach cramps, fever and vomiting.

However, vulnerable populations such as children under 5, seniors over 65 and those with weakened immune systems are at greater risk for severe foodborne illness. Some people may even develop severe or life-threatening conditions like Guillain-Barré syndrome, which leads to paralysis, and hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can lead to kidney failure, stroke or even death.

So, I highly recommend pasteurized milk and dairy products because pasteurization kills germs. Just be sure to keep them refrigerated at 40⁰F or colder and toss any dairy products that have expired.


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