Milk as God intended: full of bird flu

4 minute read

The raw milk people will probably be the vanguard of the next pandemic.

Ah, raw milk. The perfect illustration of just how stupid 21st-century humans can be. 

We disregard the genius and advances of earlier centuries for some kind of post-truth hankering for the good old days, when diseases were rife and lifespans were short. 

(I could diverge here into a whole Health Services Daily-style rant about how longer lifespans mean more expensive healthcare but that would just be shit-stirring, right?) 

Louis Pasteur was a clever bugger. He figured out back in 1864 that if you heated wine it killed off a bunch of microbes that were making people sick. It didn’t take long after that to apply the research to milk and other dairy products. 

According to the US Centers for Disease Control, improperly handled raw milk is responsible for almost three times more hospitalisations than any other food-borne disease source. It’s dangerous stuff, and illegal to sell in Australia. 

But that hasn’t stopped the raw milk lobby, e.g. these people, from working hard to convince people, including legislators, that it’s got more nutritional goodness in it than pasteurised milk and therefore people should be allowed to DRINK WHATEVER THEY WANT TO, DAMN IT. 

Recently some politicians in West Virginia, that bastion of common sense, celebrated the fact that a ban on raw milk had been lifted by drinking some raw milk. 

Guess what? They got sick! What a surprise. Of course, being politicians, and therefore in denial about anything resembling the truth, they said it was a coincidence. That there was a stomach bug going round.  

Yep, there was. It was going round in the raw milk. 

Now, at the risk of breaking my own rules about extrapolating research conducted in mice, here’s some news that should stop the raw milk lobby in its tracks, if it had half a track. 

A letter published in the NEJM last Friday has described the discovery, back in March, of highly pathogenic avian influenza of the dreaded H5N1 subtype in nasal swabs and milk of dairy cows in New Mexico in the US. 

The authors, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have since found that mice fed the untreated milk quickly became ill. 

“Our data indicate that HPAI A[H5N1] virus in untreated milk can infect susceptible animals that consume it,” concluded the team. 

The mice showed typical signs of infection, such as “ruffled fur and lethargy” as soon as one day after being fed the milk, the researchers reported. 

“All the animals survived until day 4, when they were euthanised to determine virus titres in multiple organs,” the authors wrote. 

“We detected high virus titres in the respiratory organs [which suggests that infection may have occurred through the pharynx] and moderate virus titres in several other organs, findings consistent with the systemic infections typically caused by HPAI H5 viruses in mammals.” 

High levels of virus were also found in the female mice’s mammary glands, even though they were not lactating, the researchers said. 

Based on their findings, the researchers wrote that they believed that mammalian infection with the avian flu virus could happen after consuming cow’s milk containing the pathogen if the milk had not been heat-treated, as happens with pasteurisation. 

Now, okay – IN MICE – but does this not stink of basic common sense?  

“Don’t drink raw milk – that’s the message,” the lead author said. 

Be like someone from the 19th century, people. Don’t drink raw milk. 

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