Should We Be Worried About H5N1? What Is It And What Precautions Should We Take At This Time?

H5N1 flu

Last month, the CDC reported that one individual had been infected with a strain of bird flu, but given our collective anxieties after the COVID pandemic, this news made headlines.  H5N1 flu, also known as avian influenza or bird flu, is a subtype of influenza A virus that primarily infects birds, but unfortunately can also infect humans. In the US, there are currently cases documented in poultry and dairy cows and one confirmed human case in a dairy farmer in Texas (there was one other case in 2022 in Denver.) While it can cause severe illness and has a high mortality rate in humans, the virus does NOT currently spread easily from person to person. The individual infected in Texas only had mild symptoms and was treated with antivirals.

H5N1 Bird Flu: Causes, Symptoms & Prevention

According to the CDC, the people at risk of infection currently are “those with close or prolonged, unprotected exposures to infected birds or other animals (including livestock), or to environments contaminated by infected birds or other animals.”

However, it’s always important to monitor infectious diseases like H5N1 flu, especially given the potential for viruses to mutate and develop the ability to spread more easily among humans. Public health authorities and organizations continuously monitor the situation and take measures to prevent and control outbreaks. For now, they have made a federal law that prohibits moving dairy cows across state lines until they have tested negative.

Scientists have also confirmed that the normal milk pasteurization process should deactivate the viral particles so that even if infected milk somehow makes it into the supply, it should not harm humans. Fortunately, the tests that we have for flu do reliably pick up this strain, although only sophisticated tests in a hospital lab would be able to delineate the specific strain.

Individuals can reduce their risk of H5N1 infection by avoiding contact with sick or dead birds, whether they are wild or domesticated. It is also important to assure that poultry, meat and dairy products are appropriately and safely prepared. Poultry and eggs should be heated to an internal temperature of 165˚F to kill bacteria and viruses, including bird flu viruses. Other meat products have slightly different internal temperature ranges that can be found here, along with other guidance on food preparation safety.  You should avoid eating or drinking raw milk or products made with raw milk. Finally, as always, it is important to practice good hand hygiene, such as washing hands frequently with soap and water.

While it’s essential to stay informed about public health issues, there’s no need to panic about H5N1 flu as long as appropriate precautions are taken and outbreaks are effectively managed. You can follow the spread of H5N1 in birds and cattle on the CDC’s website here. As always, feel free to reach out to your doctor if you have questions or concerns.

Read Also: What Vitamins And Supplements Should I Be Giving My Child To Help Them Grow Well And Stay Healthy?

Jackie Phillips, MD, May, 2024

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