On September 23, in Colorado Springs, public health officials from El Paso and Pueblo City counties, announced the launch of a joint investigation into campylobacter infections linked to unpasteurized or “raw” milk. Consumers who purchased milk from Larga Vista Ranch in Pueblo County are being warned that raw milk can pose severe health risks. Clinical features of campylobacter include: diarrhea, often bloody, and abdominal cramps.
In New Mexico, officials are also asking consumers to dispose of raw milk as they confirm six cases of cryptosporidium (crypto) since August 31. According to the press release, “The affected individuals are from Bernalillo County. Epidemiologists, laboratory staff and inspectors are working to confirm the source of the outbreak.” Detection of crypto is difficult; tests for the parasite are not usually done in most laboratories. Healthcare providers should ask for the test if they suspect a patient is infected.
Meanwhile, a record number of cases (13) of brucellosis infections were confirmed by Dallas County Health and Human Services this year. Brucella bacteria infect animals, such as sheep and cows, that pass on the infection, through their milk, to humans who consume it before it has been properly pasteurized.
Recently, Contagion reported on a salmonella outbreak linked to raw milk in Utah, where nine cases were reported after consumption of unpasteurized milk from the Heber Valley dairy farm. The cases ranged in age from 15 to 78 years old and two individuals were hospitalized.
There have been a total of 51 outbreaks between 2010-2012; 77% were caused by campylobacter, and most, at least 81%, were linked to raw milk purchased in states where the sale of non-pasteurized products is legal.
The Centers for Disease Control and Preventon (CDC) believes that recent outbreaks are just the beginning of something much more serious. Food safety resources on their website state that, “for every single outbreak and illness reported, many and most are not part of recognized outbreaks.” Consumers choosing raw milk are often under the impression that it is an improvement, safer, or more natural than pasteurized milk; this is due in part to the consumer’s desire to have a more “natural” diet.
However, the CDC warns that milk can easily become contaminated and infected through feces, mastitis, skin bacteria, and other environmental factors. The only way to assure milk and cheeses are free from disease-causing bacteria is through the pasteurization process. The risk to consumer health can be severe, even life-threatening. A person can develop Guillain-Barré syndrome, which causes the immune system to attack the peripheral nervous system. This can lead to paralysis and hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can result in kidney failure and stroke.
All public health officials in these cases are asking consumers to dispose of and avoid eating or drinking raw milk and raw milk products.