Minnesota health officials identify more illnesses linked to raw milk
Minnesota state health officials reported Thursday that routine disease surveillance has detected additional illnesses linked to consumption of raw dairy products from the Hartmann dairy farm in Sibley County.
According to epidemiologists with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), the illnesses include three people infected with a bacterium called Campylobacter jejuni, and four people infected with a parasite called Cryptosporidium parvum. Common symptoms of Campylobacter infection include fever, diarrhea (sometimes bloody), abdominal pain, malaise, and vomiting. Symptoms last for about a week in most people but can last for up to three weeks in 20 percent of cases. In addition, Campylobacter infection occasionally results in complications such as arthritis and Guillain Barré syndrome, which is characterized by sudden onset of paralysis. Cryptosporidium infection is marked by watery diarrhea, vomiting, cramping, abdominal pain, and weight loss. Symptoms often last two weeks but may wax and wane for a month or more. Cryptosporidium infection can be life threatening in people with weakened immune systems.
These illnesses were reported to MDH by health care providers as required under Minnesota law. When MDH contacted the individuals to inquire about potential causes of their illnesses (a routine public health practice designed to identify likely causes of illness in order to prevent future illnesses) the ill people reported that they had consumed raw milk. Those who named a source named the Hartmann farm. Laboratory tests found that the Campylobacter bacteria and Cryptosporidium parasites in most of the ill people were genetically identical to organisms found in animal and environmental samples taken on the Hartmann farm this past summer.
"We're concerned that people are continuing to get sick after consuming products from this farm," said MDH Foodborne Diseases Unit Supervisor Kirk Smith. "We're also concerned that some people who became ill were given the Hartmann dairy product by friends or neighbors who did not tell them the source."
Smith noted that in addition to the illnesses associated with the Hartmann farm, MDH has identified 47 other people since Jan. 1, 2010 who became ill after drinking raw milk from a variety of sources throughout the state; none of these 47 cases was part of an identified outbreak (no two cases reported the same source). Most of the individual cases have been in children or young adults.
"While we are very concerned about the ongoing illnesses associated with this one farm, this isn't just about one farm selling raw milk and making people sick," Smith said. "This also is about the inherent risk of any raw milk. People need to think carefully about those risks before consuming raw dairy products from any source, and people need to know that the risks are especially high for young children."
Hartmann's farm was implicated as the source of an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections in May and June. As a part of this earlier illness outbreak, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) ordered Hartmann to stop selling milk until he addressed the unsanitary conditions on his farm. MDA also directed him to comply with the state law that allows for the sale of unpasteurized milk only on the farm at which the milk was produced. It is not clear how the seven new ill people acquired the product.
For more information about the risks of raw milk, visit the MDH Food Safety website at http://www.health.state.mn.us/foodsafety/foods/rawmilk.html or the MDA website at http://www.mda.state.mn.us/food/safety/rawmilkinfo.aspx.