Skip to Content

With avian flu and a new coronavirus variant spreading as summer begins, how can we keep healthy and still have fun?

By Katia Hetter, CNN

(CNN) — Memorial Day is here, and soon summer will arrive. The threat of some diseases, such as Covid-19 is receding, though there are new coronavirus variants to keep an eye on, and a second human case of the bird flu has just been detected in the United States.

With Memorial Day gatherings getting underway in the US, how worried should people be about the coronavirus and bird flu? Knowing that there are outbreaks of bird flu among poultry and cows, is it safe to keep drinking milk and eating eggs? Are there any special precautions to take while preparing hamburgers? What are other major health issues to consider over the holidays and leading into the summer, such as keeping cool to avoid heatstroke?

To help us through these questions, I spoke with CNN wellness expert Dr. Leana Wen. Wen is an emergency physician and clinical associate professor at George Washington University, and she previously was Baltimore’s health commissioner.

CNN: Given the spread of avian flu and new coronavirus variants, is there anything we should do? 

Dr. Leana Wen: Though there are new coronavirus variants, the level of coronavirus activity in the United States is quite low. People should assess their risk of severe illness if they were to contract Covid-19. Those at high risk, such as those who are elderly or with chronic medical conditions, should be sure that they are up to date with vaccines and have a plan for accessing antiviral treatment. They should test if they experience symptoms, and so should others with whom they have close contact.

Those who want to reduce their risk of contracting the coronavirus and other respiratory viruses further should try to attend outdoor rather than indoor gatherings when possible. When traveling in crowded airports and train stations, they could consider wearing well-fitting N95 or equivalent masks.

Regarding bird flu, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to advise that the risk to Americans is low at this time. That’s because there have only been two human cases this year, and both have been in farmworkers with direct exposure to infected cattle. Both individuals had mild symptoms, and there have been no cases of human-to-human transmission during this outbreak.

People who work in the poultry and dairy industry and who otherwise come into regular contact with wild birds, backyard flocks and cows should heed the CDC’s guidance and wear personal protective equipment when working with animals. Health care providers should be on the lookout for farmworkers with possible flulike symptoms. Other people do not need to change their behaviors at this time, and they certainly should not worry about infection with avian flu during Memorial Day or early summer gatherings.

CNN: Does that mean it’s still safe to keep drinking milk and eating eggs and meat?

Wen: Yes. The US Food and Drug Administration has issued guidance that pasteurized milk is safe to drink. Viral fragments have been in found in the commercial milk supply; however, these were not live viruses that could cause infections. Pasteurization kills viruses, including the influenza virus.

Similarly, testing by the US Department of Agriculture found no live virus in hamburgers cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit. The agency advises that cooked eggs and poultry are also safe to eat.

This, of course, does not mean that people should consume raw or undercooked meat. These meats harbor a whole variety of pathogens, including bacteria like E. coli and salmonella. In addition, raw milk is not safe to drink. This, too, can harbor bacteria. Moreover, one hypothesis for how avian flu is being transmitted is through raw milk. People should not consume unpasteurized milk or products made from raw milk.

CNN: How does this translate to gatherings? Is it OK to eat hamburgers and hot dogs, and enjoy barbecues and buffets?

 Yes! Make sure to follow general precautions around preventing foodborne illnesses. Cook meat to the recommended internal temperatures. Be aware of what containers or utensils come into contact with raw meat and keep clean utensils separate from dirty ones. Refrigerate meat until ready to cook. If you use a cooler, make sure to have an insulated one with lots of ice. And wash your hands often and well.

CNN: We’ve talked a lot about infections. What are other major health issues to consider over the holidays and leading into the summer, such as keeping cool to prevent heatstroke?

Wen: When the weather gets hot outside, we have to watch out for the effects of high temperatures on health. Heatstroke occurs when someone has a body temperature above 103 degrees Fahrenheit and can no longer effectively cool themselves. This is a medical emergency and can quickly become fatal.

People should be aware of the symptoms of heat exhaustion, which can progress to heatstroke. They should watch out for those most vulnerable to heat-related illnesses. That includes children and the elderly and other individuals with medical conditions that reduce their ability to regulate their body temperatures.

When high temperatures are forecast, everyone — especially the most vulnerable — should try to stay inside in air-conditioned spaces or under the shade if they are outdoors. They should keep hydrated and immediately seek shelter in a cool place if they develop symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, muscle aches and tiredness.

CNN: And we can’t forget skin protection, right?

Wen: Absolutely. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. One of the key risk factors is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. Everyone should take steps to reduce their UV exposure. These include staying in the shade, wearing a hat and using broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.

Speaking of prevention, summers are often a period of the year when people have more time on their hands. I advise everyone to take this chance and follow up with their physician on all their health concerns. Now is the time to make sure they are up to date on cancer screenings and to get chronic medical concerns, like high blood pressure and diabetes, under good control.

™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - Health

Jump to comments ↓

CNN Newsource


KTVZ NewsChannel 21 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content