May 30, 2024

Sales of raw milk in the U.S. have risen 21% since bird flu was first confirmed in dairy cattle in late March, according to a report from PBS Newshour, citing new data from research firm NielsenIQ. Why on Earth would people drink raw milk at a time when pasteurization has been shown to kill the virus? Because some people believe intentionally being exposed to H5N1 will give them “immunity” to the disease. Seriously.

At least 46 dairy cow herds in nine states have tested positive for bird flu, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with four new herds reported just today. The big concern is that widespread outbreaks in dairy cows provide more opportunities for the virus to mutate, potentially allowing it to spread freely among other species.

Inactive viral remnants of H5N1 have been found in pasteurized milk but the USDA assures consumers it’s safe to drink. Raw milk, on the other hand, is showing “high concentrations” of the virus, according to the USDA, and consuming unpasteurized dairy products right now feels like playing Russian Roulette.

While there have been no known cases of human-to-human transmission of the virus, that has the potential to change if mutations occur. The World Health Organization has globally identified 889 human cases and 463 deaths from H5N1 since 2003, putting the mortality rate at roughly 52%.

The states that have found positive bird flu cases in dairy cattle as of May 14, 2024, according to the USDA.

Incredibly, the surging popularity of raw milk seems to be directly related to the detection of bird flu in unpasteurized dairy products and a mistaken belief that being exposed to the virus will be beneficial to humans.

The Los Angeles Times reported on Sunday that interest in raw milk producers has only intensified since the bird flu pandemic started worsening on U.S. farms:

Mark McAfee, founder of Fresno’s Raw Farm and the Raw Milk Institute, said his phone has been ringing off the hook with “customers asking for H5N1 milk because they want immunity from it.” (Bird flu has not been detected in California’s dairy herds.)

Other raw milk drinkers, such as Peg Coleman, a medical microbiologist who runs Coleman Scientific Consulting, a Groton, N.Y.-based food safety consulting company, claimed the government’s warnings have no basis in reality.

Social media platforms like TikTok and Twitter have plenty of anti-science activists extolling the virtues of raw milk, and those influencers have seemed to only gain traction since bird flu was first detected in American dairy cows on March 25.

Please don’t drink raw milk at any time, especially not now. Despite claims that there are nutritional benefits to raw milk, that’s simply not true, according to the CDC. The lone claim that holds up is that raw milk tastes better, something that’s obviously a matter of taste. And that’s a really stupid reason to get very, very sick—to say nothing about potentially kicking off a brand new human-centered pandemic that could kill half of everyone infected with it.

A version of this article originally appeared on Gizmodo.

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