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Bird Flu. What's going on? Should milk drinkers be worried?

written by

Marie Reedell

posted on

May 10, 2024


bird-flu.jpg

Bird flu, bird flu, bird flu. I'm sure you've seen scary headlines like these:

💥 "Deadly flu virus is not just for the birds anymore"
💥 "Bird flu has spread to dairy cows. Is our milk safe?"
💥 "Could Avian Influenza Be The Next Covid-19?" 

I mean, how sensational. At this point, you've likely had (at least) a small moment of fear. You maybe have even done an internet search on "bird flu symptoms" (or something like that).

I mean, the government and the media do such a good job of seeding fear about disease. Any fear or anxiety you have about this is not your fault. Gee, just imagine how you'd feel and what the headlines would look like if, instead, the focus switched to spreading hope about natural health! That would be the day.

What's really going on? What do we have evidence of? What questions remain unanswered? Here's a breakdown of it all from my perspective. 

Heads up -- it's a loooong post. It needs to be. Instead of fragments of scary information like most media sites put out there, I figure I'd take the time to delve deep and answer the questions that I have (and you might have, too).

*As a disclaimer, I'm not a doctor or a scientist. I'm a passionate real food consumer that loves research and learning new things. Sources are listed at the very bottom.

The truth is that there is zero evidence of viral transmission from milk to humans (even raw milk).

Yes, strains of bird flu were found in US milk (and fragments of these strains were found in pasteurized milk). However, the CDC and USDA reported that the strains lack the genetic markers for viruses adapted to infect humans. You heard that right. Anything that would potentially be in the milk can't infect humans.

The two people infected in this "outbreak" have been farm workers who've had direct contact with infected animals (and, by the way, with one of those cases it's unknown whether the animals were cows or dead birds). 

For farm workers, the "WHO assesses the public health risk to the general population posed by this virus to be low and for occupationally exposed persons the risk of infection is considered low-to-moderate." So low risk for everyone, and low-moderate risk for farm works.

Furthermore, the two people infected have NOT transmitted it to another human. Sure, the virus could mutate to spread from human to human, but that's not the current reality.

Raw milk has antiviral properties that can prevent disease.

Science shows that raw milk can inactivate viruses and prevent foodborne illness. Multiple researchers have shown that this is a synergistic effect, meaning that there's not one specific thing in the milk that provides this protection. Rather, it's a combination of many things working together in our complex gut ecosystems that include innate and adaptive immune systems

Beyond the studies, this just makes sense in our gut. Let's take this example. Say a breastfeeding mom gets sick. She should NOT stop breastfeeding. Rather, she should 100% continue because she passes immunity along to protect the baby.

It's my opinion that it's better to improve your immune system than try to avoid a specific handful of the billions of bacteria and viruses around us (terrain theory, not germ theory). With potentially harmful pathogens, it's not an "if" you come in contact, it's a "when" you come in contact. Strengthening your body and immune system is your best defense (rather than avoidance). 

There's zero evidence showing spread through eating meat or eggs.

I don't think I need to write more here. The above sentence says it all.

Unanswerable Bird Flu Questions

The hard part about writing about bird flu right now is that I have so many questions that I simply cannot find answers to. How can I have an educated stance when I'm confused, when I don't feel like I have all the info? Here are some questions that I'd love to have answered to help formulate a truly educated opinion.

--> How widespread is bird flu in cows? How many farms have been affected?

Some charts show number of positive tests in animals, some show positive milk tests, and some show it combined. Some show the number of states affected, and some show the number of farms. You need to be diligent when looking at the numbers.

From what I found, as of May 2, it looks like there are 36 herds that have had at least one cow with a positive bird flu test. Since there's about 25,000 dairy herds in the US, about 0.1% of farms that have been affected. If we round, that's 0%.

It's my understanding that these are only farms with a reason to test. How many farms have cows with bird flu and don't know it? Furthermore, how sensitive are the tests? Are we counting tests for the full virus, fragments of the virus, or a specific amount of the virus? 

So many unknowns and opportunities to skew data to make a point.

--> Are there any farming practices that make bird flu transmission to cows more or less likely?

When there's a food safety risk, headlines nearly always say things like "Dump milk from This Specific Farm" or "Throw away your lettuce from This Specific Company." They call out the specific farm or company producing the food. 

But, with the bird flu thing, it's very vague. The articles say "a farm in Texas" or "a farm in Colorado." 

Because they're not naming names, I can only assume that the farms affected are part of big ag. They likely sell their milk to mega companies, which are lobbying to protect their brand name (and sales). And that means that, most likely, the infected cows live inside, are fed corn and soy, are given drugs, and all that industrial ag stuff. 

And, if that's the case, then it means that cows on small natural farms like ours would be much less likely to contract bird flu. The cows are outside as much as possible (at this time of year, it's all day and night), they eat a natural diet of grass, and are drug-free. They're in natural health. The outside thing might be the biggest variable, because just like with COVID (and basically any virus), outdoor viral spread is rare.

But, of course, I have no way to prove this one way or another. Again, they're not naming farms! And, even if they did, big ag will protect its name. Those industrial farming practices are just fine, right? This makes it impossible to draw any conclusions about why transmission to cows happened in the first place.

--> How serious is bird flu in humans?

This should be a simple one, right? Nope. The info out there is quite confusing.

According to the CDC, "The signs and symptoms of bird flu virus infections in humans range from no symptoms or mild illness such as eye redness or mild flu-like upper respiratory symptoms to severe illness such as pneumonia requiring hospitalization." OK, that sounds like a normal flu virus. Symptoms range from mild to severe, and the most vulnerable are probably those who are immunocompromised (sick, elderly, etc).

But then, according to the WHO, the death rate is 56% (other sources cite the fatality rate from 40-60%). Seriously!?!? If that were true for all people, it would be truly terrifying.

Most likely, there should be some disclaimers about the fatality stats. I'd like to know these things. Was the percent based on hospitalized people only? If some people show no symptoms, were they be included in the total count of those infected (of course not)? Where did these deaths happen? How long were people infected before getting treatment? What was the quality of care and resources in those hospitals?

But, let's stop and think. How can anyone put a scary stat about death out there without some serious disclaimers about the data? It's obvious that that stat is for people who are already very sick and hospitalized.

--> How does bird flu get into milk anyway? 

Bird flu is a respiratory disease, NOT a blood disease. Why is this important? Because milk is made from blood. If the bird flu virus isn't in blood, then there's no way for it to get into the milk (at last the milk when it's inside a body).

So, how does it get into the milk? Articles online haven't really explained this. They've only cited that fragments of bird flu have been found in pasteurized milk. In the same articles, they tout how amazing our testing capabilities are and how we can detect even the smallest fragments. So how much of the virus is in the milk is unknown, too.

Again, how does the virus get into milk? The only explanation is that it must be from an outside source. Perhaps droplets from an infected cow's saliva, respiratory droplets, urine, or feces. Another theory is that mastitis happens as an inflammatory response, and the infection is spreading to the teats. But again, this is yet to be proven.

In my opinion, it's most likely from respiratory droplets in the air in poorly ventilated milking spaces. But again, I have no way to prove that.

--> Why the hype? 

Given the data, bird flu in humans doesn't seem like a big threat. This is especially true when compared to the wars, malnutrition, lack of clean water, and all the other huge issues around the world. 

So, why? I mean, it's definitely click bait that gets ratings up. Maybe it's just something to talk about. Maybe it's a distraction from other news. Maybe it's a ploy to promote pasteurized dairy. Or maybe it's to promote a new bird flu vaccine. We may never know!

What is Miller's Bio Farm doing to prevent bird flu?

Well, we're going to continue doing what we normally do. Our cows will live a naturally happy, healthy life. They're outdoors at pasture as much as the weather allows. They eat a natural diet of 100% grass. We have meticulous cleaning and milk safety standards to minimize any potential pathogens getting in the milk. And, as usual, we carefully watch the health of our cows (they rarely fall ill).

We will not be testing for bird flu... unless we're required to. We don't feel it's necessary. Given the current info, we don't view bird flu as a risk. If we see evidence showing otherwise, of course we would take action then.

What do you think about bird flu? Are you nervous, or is it just hype?

I'd love for you to join the conversation. Comment below (no account required - start typing for the guest option to appear) or contact us.

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Sources

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