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The FDA reports the discovery of traces of bird flu virus in pasteurized milk

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reported the discovery of traces of the bird flu virus in pasteurized milk. However, the agency has emphasized that the material is inactivated and poses no risk to consumers. The FDA is continuing to study the issue and has found no evidence to suggest that the commercial milk supply is unsafe.

This announcement comes after the detection of an avian influenza virus in dairy cows in several states. The Agriculture Department has reported 33 affected herds so far. The FDA did not disclose the number of samples tested or their origin but has been evaluating milk during processing and from grocery stores. Additional test results are expected in the coming weeks.

The FDA used a PCR lab test, which can detect viral genetic material even after the live virus has been killed through pasteurization. Lee-Ann Jaykus, an emeritus food microbiologist and virologist at North Carolina State University, explained that there is currently no evidence to suggest that this is an infectious virus. The FDA is following up on this matter.

Regulations require milk entering interstate commerce to be pasteurized, ensuring its safety. Matt Herrick, a spokesman for the International Dairy Foods Association, reassured consumers that time and temperature regulations for pasteurization guarantee the safety of the U.S. commercial milk supply. He stated that remnants of the bird flu virus have no impact on human health.

It is worth noting that while the detection of the bird flu virus in dairy cattle is a new development, no studies on the effects of pasteurization on the virus have been completed. However, past research suggests that pasteurization is likely to inactivate heat-sensitive viruses like H5N1, the strain of bird flu detected in dairy cows.

Scientists confirmed the presence of the H5N1 virus in dairy cows in March after reports of mysterious symptoms in Texas cows, including lethargy and a significant reduction in milk production. Although the H5N1 virus is lethal to commercial poultry, experts have observed that most infected cattle recover within two weeks.

To date, there have been two known cases of bird flu infection in the United States. A dairy worker in Texas developed a mild eye infection after close contact with an infected cow, but has since recovered. In 2022, a prison inmate participating in a work program caught the virus while handling infected birds at a Colorado poultry farm. The inmate experienced fatigue as the only symptom and made a full recovery.

While the presence of the bird flu virus in pasteurized milk may cause concern, the FDA’s reassurance and the measures already in place to ensure the safety of the milk supply should alleviate any fears. The ongoing research and additional test results will further contribute to our understanding of the situation. As of now, consumers can continue to enjoy their milk products with confidence in their safety.

This article was produced with support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The Associated Press is solely responsible for its content.

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