H5N1 bird flu outbreak: can you eat milk, eggs and chicken?

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Cases of bird flu have also been reported in some states in India. If you’re wondering whether it’s okay to consume animal products during a bird flu outbreak, here’s everything you need to know.

H5N1 bird flu was recently reported to have infected cows and a person in the US. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has confirmed that H5N1 bird flu has affected dairy cows in the United States. The virus has been found in pasteurized milk in many states. However, the Department of Agriculture and the FDA have also stated that “the U.S. milk supply is safe due to the diversion or destruction of milk from sick cows.” Now, a massive bird flu has also hit some states in India. Bird flu was reported to have reached Jharkhand, Kerala and an alert was issued in the border areas of Karnataka. This has led to increased concerns and panic among people wondering whether it is safe to eat chicken and dairy products such as milk and eggs.

Health Shots asked a doctor and infectious disease specialist Dr Charu Dutt Arora whether it is safe for people to consume dairy and chicken.

What is H5N1 bird flu?

H5N1 is a subtype of the influenza A virus, commonly known as bird flu or bird flu. It mainly affects birds, but can also infect humans and other animals. There are multiple strains of the H5N1 virus, some of which are highly pathogenic, meaning they can cause serious illness and high mortality rates in infected birds. In humans, H5N1 infection is rare, but can be serious and even fatal. Most cases have occurred in people who have had close contact with infected birds or contaminated surfaces.

Read too: H5N1 bird flu spreads to humans and raises alarm! Know everything about the infection

H5N1 bird flu has already entered India. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

Can humans be infected?

H5N1 bird flu, which is the most common type of bird flu, first affected humans in 1997 in Hong Kong. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 887 cases of H5N1 were recorded between 2003 and 2004, of which 462 people died.

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The recent outbreak started in the US and affected dairy cows and a person who was in close contact with cows was found to be infected with the virus. So yes, humans can become infected with bird flu if they come into close contact with the infected bird (dead or alive) or a contaminated surface.

Transmission of H5N1 between humans is limited, but there is concern that the virus could mutate to become more easily transmissible between humans, potentially leading to a pandemic. Efforts are underway to monitor and control H5N1 outbreaks in poultry, as well as research into vaccines and antiviral treatments to reduce the risk to animal and human health.

Can you eat eggs during a bird flu outbreak?

Yes, you can eat eggs when they come from a reputable source. Dr. Dutta explains that it is safe to consume eggs when purchased retail as the packaging and storage processes are safe. When purchased from trusted sources, the risk of contamination is low. You can cook them to 175 Fahrenheit (both the yellow and white part of the egg). This will help you get rid of all bacterial and viral contaminants that can increase your risk of infection. Consequently, consumption of cooked eggs is not known to cause any transmission.

Can you eat chicken during a bird flu outbreak?

If you are worried about getting bird flu if you eat chicken, cook it to 165 Fahrenheit, which will remove all bacteria and viruses, making it safe. Special care must be taken when handling and storing raw chicken so that there is no cross-contamination with other foods, advises the specialist.

Read too: Is it safe to eat chicken during bird flu?

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Can you drink milk during a bird flu outbreak?

While eggs and chicken can be cooked to make them safe, milk is usually consumed straight from the refrigerator. Make sure you only buy pasteurized milk. The process of pasteurization (heating to very high temperatures) kills all pathogens, including any persistent bird flu viruses. You should not buy unpasteurized raw milk from small sellers or directly from farms. This milk can contain many pathogens that cause food poisoning. Proper handling and storage processes must be followed.

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You can drink milk during a bird flu outbreak. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

How is H5N1 bird flu treated?

The doctor will decide the best course of action after performing a comprehensive test known as the influenza A/H5 (Asian lineage) real-time RT-PCR primer and probe set. Antiviral medications such as zanamivir and oseltamivir can often help treat the disease and lessen its severity. However, the medicine needs to be taken 48 hours after the onset of symptoms.

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