The Rising Cases of H5N1 Bird Flu Virus in the United States

After COVID, could we be en route to another? The recent outbreak of the H5N1 bird flu virus in cattle has come into the limelight, with Nirav Shah, principal deputy director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, confirming the presence of the virus in nine states across the United States. Texas and New Mexico are the current hotspots, and cases are rising rapidly in Colorado. 

What stumps the scientists is the fact that the flu is spreading from one cow to another. USDA research has already found that most viral replication occurs in the udder. Milking processes can be linked to an outbreak.

Three influenza A (H5N1/bird flu) virus particles Credit: CDC and NIAID

Can H5N1 bird flu spread to humans?

Older strains of the H5N1 virus have caused numerous deaths, but the current strain has not yet proved to be a concern despite having infected a person. No person-to-person spread has been documented yet. However, viruses can mutate with every replication, making them even more equipped to spread. In fact, this avian virus can even start to prefer infecting mammals over birds.

Cow_milking_machine_in_action

Is it safe to drink cow milk?

As far as packaged milk is concerned, there shouldn’t be any concerns with consumption. However, raw milk can be a problem, as the H5N1 virus has been found in raw milk. FDA has advised people to avoid raw milk and drink pasteurized milk as the process removes the virus.

Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona, mentioned that the virus has been spreading under our noses for almost four months. A lack of health checks has been a driving force in how the virus spreads incognito. To combat the situation, USDA has ordered all lactating cows to be checked for H5N1 bird flu virus before they are moved to other states.

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