The A (H5) and A (H7) viruses, also known as bird flu or avian flu, are what cause the highly contagious and frequently fatal Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI).

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The herpes simplex virus (HPAI) can infect both wild and domestic fowl. While people are typically not infected with avian flu viruses, there have been isolated cases of human infections. The term "highly pathogenic" is used to describe a very negative effect on birds, not on people in general.

Ongoing Work to Ensure Continued Effectiveness of Federal-State Milk Safety System: April 2024 Update


The highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus has been affecting dairy cows in several areas, and the federal government is still looking into the matter. State partners are also helping with the investigation. Cattle infected with the virus are exhibiting signs such as reduced appetite and lactation.

According to the FDA and USDA, our commercial milk supply is safe because 1) milk is pasteurized and 2) sick cow milk is either destroyed or diverted. This is based on the information that is currently accessible.

Public health has benefited greatly from pasteurization for over a century. To make milk safer, pasteurization involves heating the milk to a certain temperature for a predetermined amount of time, which destroys any harmful bacteria or viruses that may be present. Pasteurization is anticipated to eradicate microorganisms to an extent that does not constitute a threat to consumer health, even in the event that a virus is identified in raw milk.


While full sterilization does increase milk's shelf life, it is not necessary to guarantee safety; pasteurization is distinct from this. Although the technique of pasteurization does not sterilize milk, it has been helpful in protecting the public's health for over a century by rendering infectious organisms ineffective.

The vast majority of the commercial milk produced in the United States (99%) originates from farms that adhere to the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO) and the Grade "A" milk program, both of which serve to guarantee the safety of dairy products. A key component of the federal-state milk safety system is pasteurization, which involves either removing milk from sick cows or destroying it.

To make sure the federal-state milk safety system stays effective, a lot of people are working together. In addition to these targeted studies, the FDA is working closely with the CDC's food safety group and surveillance team to track emergency department data and flu testing data for unusual spikes in flu-like illness, conjunctivitis, or flu-like symptoms.

A number of news outlets, including the USDA and the World Health Organization (WHO), have reported that the virus is present in raw milk. Initial research shows that pasteurization will render the virus inactive, but it won't get rid of any viral particles that may be present.

The Food and Drug Administration has been monitoring the processing, storage, and distribution of milk from impacted animals throughout the epidemic. If researchers want to know how widespread these results are, they will need to finish a large, representative national sample.

The FDA is taking further steps to evaluate any positive results using egg inoculation testing, the gold standard for determining living viruses, since qPCR results do not reflect real viruses that could pose a risk to consumers.

Review of Available Data

Although there is a lot of scientific literature that has shaped our current understanding, no studies have yet been conducted on the effects of pasteurization on HPAI viruses (like H5N1) in bovine milk. This is because the detection of H5N1 in dairy cows is a new and developing situation.

To effectively pasteurize milk from known pathogens, one must adhere to the time and temperature standards outlined in the PMO's standardized pasteurization method. Prior research that formed the basis for the FDA's present evaluation of milk supply safety indicates that pasteurization is very probable to successfully render heat-sensitive viruses, such as H5N1, inactive in milk produced by cows and other animals. Pasteurization of eggs, which happens at lower temperatures than milk, has also been shown to be effective in thermally inactivating HPAI (H5N1).

Ongoing Research

In order to confirm that pasteurization is effective for known pathogens, the United States government and its partners have been working quickly on a number of studies that examine milk at every point in its production chain, from the farm to the processing facility to the store shelf.

In order to determine how and at what levels heat treatment (pasteurization) inactivates the virus, this involves testing both laboratory-generated samples inoculated with high levels of a recently isolated and closely related avian flu virus and raw, unpasteurized milk directly from cows in affected herds with and without symptoms.

This data is critical, but it doesn't tell the whole story because the samples used in the tests don't reflect the milk that would really go through pasteurization and processing for commercial purposes.

Laboratory testing is essential, but testing milk that mimics real-world conditions—that is, milk that is often collected in bulk from several healthy cows on different farms and then pasteurized and processed—is also an important part of the scientific validation process.

Current industry techniques utilizing a range of temperature and time combinations utilized in pasteurization procedures are being replicated in systems that would evaluate milk samples.

There is an ongoing effort to assess the possibility of differentiation for different kinds of dairy products, as well as additional research into the milk sold in stores around the nation.

Universities and other organizations, including those with funding from the National Institutes of Health, are working in this field and are cognizant of this. As part of our ongoing evaluation of all available data and information, the FDA is anticipating studying the outcomes of all relevant scientific investigations, testing procedures, and products.

Precautions for Raw Milk


The Food and Drug Administration has long advised against drinking raw milk or milk that has not undergone pasteurization.

The industry is advised not to produce or sell raw milk, raw milk cheese, or any other raw milk product derived from cows exhibiting signs of illness, including those infected with avian influenza viruses or exposed to such viruses, due to the lack of sufficient information regarding the potential transmission of the H5N1 virus through raw milk. The FDA continues to support this recommendation.

The Food and Drug Administration has stressed the need for producers to take measures to prevent the spread of the disease when they dispose of milk from infected cows.

For specific recommendations or requirements, producers should contact their state's regulatory authorities. However, before dumping or applying waste solids in lagoons, heat treat or pasteurize the milk that has been discarded. Additionally, producers should ensure biosecurity around lagoons by preventing animals and birds from accessing them.

Calves and other animals, including farm cats, should only be given heat-treated or pasteurized raw milk or raw milk products from exposed cattle.

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