Raw milk fans plan to drink up as experts warn of high levels of H5N1 virus

A glass of fresh raw milk in the hand of a farmer.

Enlarge / A glass of fresh raw milk in the hand of a farmer. (credit: Getty | Pierre Crom)

To drink raw milk at any time is to flirt with dangerous germs. But, amid an unprecedented outbreak of H5N1 bird flu in US dairy cows, the risks have ratcheted up considerably. Health experts have stepped up warnings against drinking raw milk during the outbreak, the scope of which is still unknown.

Yet, raw milk enthusiasts are undaunted by the heightened risk. The California-based Raw Milk Institute called the warnings “clearly fearmongering.” The institute’s founder, Mark McAfee, told the Los Angeles Times this weekend that his customers are, in fact, specifically requesting raw milk from H5N1-infected cows. According to McAfee, his customers believe, without evidence, that directly drinking high levels of the avian influenza virus will give them immunity to the deadly pathogen.

Expert Michael Payne told the LA Times that the idea amounts to “playing Russian roulette with your health.” Payne, a researcher and dairy outreach coordinator at the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security at UC Davis, added that “Deliberately trying to infect yourself with a known pathogen flies in the face of all medical knowledge and common sense.”

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