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Bird flu outbreak: Can people catch the infection from milk and eggs? What experts say

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Amid bird flu outbreak in the US and UN body World Health Organization (WHO) confirming the presence of H5N1 bird flu strain in raw milk, concerns have been rising around consuming milk, chicken and eggs. As it has not been long since the world left behind the fears of coronavirus, the world dreads the emergence of avian influenza affecting humans. Bird flu spreads through direct contact with infected birds or their droppings; so far there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission. A person in Texas recently tested positive for avian influenza making it a second case of H5N1 bird flu in the United States, the first one being a poultry worker in Colorado in 2022. This is also the case of first human being infected by H5N1 bird flu via a cow.

While the virus has been around since 1996, recent years since 2020 have seen a massive surge among birds and mammals, killing tens of millions of poultry, infections in wild birds and also land and marine mammals. However, in the recent outbreak, cows and goats have also been affected. “The case in texas is the first human infected by avian influenza by a cow,” said Wenqing Zhang, head of the global influenza programme at the World Health Organization.

Amid spread of H5N1 influenza virus is cows and poultry, is it safe to have eggs and milk? Here’s what experts say.

“Bird flu, also known as avian influenza, is primarily transmitted through direct contact with infected birds or their droppings. The virus is not typically transmitted through consumption of properly cooked eggs or pasteurized milk. When poultry products are cooked thoroughly, the heat kills the virus, making them safe to eat. However, it’s important to practice good hygiene and ensure proper cooking and handling of poultry products to reduce any potential risk of infection. This includes washing hands thoroughly after handling raw poultry and avoiding cross-contamination with other foods,” says Dr Rahul Agarwal Consultant Internal Medicine CARE Hospitals Hitech City Hyderabad.

“With recent bird flu outbreaks, many wonder if everyday food items like milk and eggs pose a transmission risk. The good news is, contracting bird flu, also known as avian influenza, through these common breakfast staples is highly unlikely. Bird flu primarily spreads among birds through their saliva, faeces, and respiratory secretions,” says Dr Neha Rastogi Panda, Consultant-Infectious Diseases, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram.

Can people get infection from eggs and milk?

While some rare human infections have occurred, these typically involve close contact with infected birds. So, can eggs or milk harbour the virus and reach you?

“Eggs go through strict regulations and hygiene protocols during production and packaging. This significantly reduces the chance of contamination. The bigger factor is how you handle them at home. Thorough cooking is key – avoid runny yolks or dishes with undercooked eggs. Always wash your hands after handling them,” says Dr Panda.

“Milk safety hinges on pasteurization, a heat treatment that destroys viruses, including bird flu. Virtually all commercially available milk undergoes this process, making it safe for consumption. Raw milk, however, is a different story. While there’s limited data on bird flu transmission through raw milk, it’s generally discouraged due to the risk of other foodborne illnesses,” adds the expert.

If you’re concerned about bird flu and your food, focus on safe handling practices. Cook eggs thoroughly and stick to pasteurized dairy products. It’s also wise to stay updated on the outbreak from reputable sources like the CDC or national health agencies.

“Remember, the risk of getting bird flu from eggs and milk is extremely low. By following basic hygiene and food safety measures, you can continue to enjoy these breakfast favourites without worry,” concludes Dr Panda.Bird flu outbreak: Can people catch the infection from milk and eggs? What experts say

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