Does pasteurization inactivate bird flu virus in milk?

Recently, an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza A (H5N1), which carries the clade hemagglutinin (HA) gene and has been prevalent among North American bird populations since the winter of 2021, was reported in dairy cows in the United States. As of 24 May 2024, the virus has affected 63 dairy herds across nine states and has resulted in two human infections. The virus causes unusual symptoms in dairy cows, including an unexpected drop in milk production, and thick colostrum-like milk. Notably, The US Food and Drug Administration reported that around 20% of tested retail milk samples contained H5N1 viruses, with a higher percentage of positive results from regions with infected cattle herds. Data are scant regarding how effectively pasteurization inactivates the H5N1 virus in milk. Therefore, in this study, we evaluated the thermal stability of the H5 clade viruses, along with one human H3N2 virus and other influenza subtype viruses, including H1, H3, H7, H9, and H10 subtype viruses. We also assessed the effectiveness of pasteurization in inactivating these viruses. We found that the avian H3 virus exhibits the highest thermal stability, whereas the H5N1 viruses that belong to clade display moderate thermal stability. Importantly, our data provide direct evidence that the standard pasteurization methods used by dairy companies are effective in inactivating all tested subtypes of influenza viruses in raw milk. Our findings indicate that thermally pasteurized milk products do not pose a safety risk to consumers.