Why You Should Avoid Drinking Raw Milk – Virologists

Why You Should Avoid Drinking Raw Milk – Virologists

The recent detection of H5N1 avian influenza in dairy cattle has raised new concerns about the safety of raw milk consumption, with experts warning of the potential health risks associated with unpasteurised dairy products.

A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that mice fed raw milk containing H5N1 avian influenza viruses became seriously ill, raising questions about the possible consequences for humans who drink unpasteurised milk contaminated with the virus.

The findings come as the U.S. Department of Agriculture has confirmed infections in 63 dairy herds across nine states, with two human infections in farm workers detected since the outbreak was first reported in March.

While the Food and Drug Administration has long advised against drinking raw milk due to the presence of harmful pathogens such as E. coli and Salmonella, the discovery of H5N1 in dairy cattle adds to the list of potential dangers.

The study’s senior author and a leading influenza virologist, Yoshihiro Kawaoka emphasised the importance of pasteurisation in reducing the risk of illness associated with milk consumption.

While the specific risk to humans from drinking raw milk containing H5N1 avian influenza viruses remains unclear, the study’s findings provide compelling evidence that pasteurisation is a vital step in ensuring the safety of dairy products.

The study also found that not all forms of pasteurisation are equally effective in eliminating the virus.

The researchers highlighted the need for rigorous quality control measures in the production and distribution of milk and cautioned that their approaches to treating the milk were not identical to what milk processors use when they are pasteurizing commercial milk.

Another aspect of the study involved storing raw milk containing the virus at fridge temperature for several weeks to see whether the amount of virus declined over time.

With this method, the scientists saw only a minor reduction in the amount of active virus in the milk, suggesting “virus may, therefore, remain infectious for several weeks in raw milk kept at 4°C.”

The researchers also noted the presence of the H5N1 virus in the mammary glands of two mice when studying where the virus was found in mouse tissues after euthanization.

According to them, mammary tissues of dairy cattle appear to be highly susceptible to the virus, with infected lactating cows shedding extraordinarily high levels of virus in their milk.

In response to the findings, a public health expert, Olusola Aina told PUNCH Healthwise that the dangers of drinking raw milk cannot be overemphasised.

He noted that despite the growing popularity of raw milk products in some circles, the potential dangers far outweigh any perceived benefits.

“This study provides yet another reason why it is so important to avoid consuming raw milk products.

“Pasteurisation is a critical step in the food safety process, and it’s essential that we continue to educate consumers about the risks associated with raw milk.

“It’s a myth that raw milk is healthier or more nutritious than pasteurized milk. On the contrary, the risks of contracting serious, sometimes life-threatening illnesses from raw milk are very real.

“We must be proactive in ensuring that the food we consume is safe and free from harmful pathogens,” he advised.

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