Bird Flu Is Spreading. Here’s Everything You Should Know Right Now

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Because bird flu symptoms—sore throat, runny nose, fatigue—closely mirror those of other viruses, it can be hard for doctors to determine who needs a test. But word on the epidemiological street, according to Dr. Landon, is that public health officials aren’t testing as many people who have been exposed as they should be, spurring fears about silent spread between people. On May 24, the CDC said that, “more than 350 people have been monitored as a result of their exposure to infected or potentially infected animals, and at least 39 people who have developed flu-like symptoms have been tested as part of this targeted, situation-specific testing.”

Is bird flu airborne?

It can be. People can catch the virus by touching contaminated surfaces or animals, or by inhaling tiny virus-containing droplets or small aerosol particles that infected wildlife cough or sneeze out, according to the CDC. These floating droplets can also land in your eyes, mouth, or nose. Several experts say that farm workers are likely becoming infected by touching contaminated surfaces, like milking machines, but too much remains unknown right now to say for sure.

Can I get bird flu from raw milk?

YES. YOU CAN. Dr. Landon says this is a big concern right now, because a lot more people are drinking raw milk for its purported health benefits. (As SELF has previously reported, the evidence for this just isn’t there.) As bird flu continues to spread among dairy cows, the fear is that more viral particles will slip into raw milk products, increasing the chances that a person gets sick.

The pasteurization process—which raw milk doesn’t undergo—kills harmful bacteria and viruses like the bird flu. The FDA says that nearly 99% of the commercial milk supply is pasteurized, but local farmers in several states can still sell raw products.

A recent FDA survey of 297 samples of pasteurized dairy products from retail stores in 17 states found that some contained bits of bird flu, but further testing showed the virus wasn’t live or infectious—meaning the sterilization process did what it was supposed to do. Raw dairy products, on the other hand, may contain H5N1 or other dangerous pathogens like salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, and campylobacter.

Can I get bird flu from bird poop or bird baths?

Birds spread this virus via their saliva, mucous, and poop—so yes, in theory, you can. (Other infected animals shed the virus in respiratory secretions and other body fluids, like milk.) “Bird poop isn’t super sanitary, period,” Dr. Landon says. “There’s a reason we wash our hands after we’ve been outside, before we eat, and after we go to the bathroom. This is it. This is the reason.”

Infected wildlife can also contaminate water sources like ponds, fountains, and bird baths, Dr. Carreno says, so it’s a good idea to wear gloves if you have to clean up bird crap, bird feeders, or anything else that comes from or is touched by fauna this summer, she says, and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water when you’re done.

Can I get bird flu from eating runny eggs?

The odds are low (particularly if you’re buying pasteurized eggs in a store), but there are plenty of other delicious ways to consume eggs, so maybe don’t take the small risk, Darin Detwiler, PhD, a food safety expert and associate teaching professor of food policy at Northeastern University, tells SELF. “We’re not saying to avoid eggs entirely,” he says. “We’re just saying that maybe you need to eat eggs in the safest way right now.” (This is not a new recommendation. The USDA says no one should ever eat raw or undercooked egg yolks, mostly to avoid salmonella, which can linger inside eggs and on outer shells.)

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