State: Bacterial illness linked to dairy

(Montrose Daily Press, CO)

By Katharhynn Heidelberg


The Montrose dairy linked to a recent bacterial outbreak says it will work with health department officials to address any problems found.


The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment slapped a public health order on Kinikin Corner Dairy late Tuesday, which for the time being prohibits it from making its raw milk available for distribution.


The dairy is thought to be the source of a recent campylobacter outbreak that sickened at least eight people on the Western Slope.


“If we find out that our milk has a problem, it’s going to be a sad thing,” dairy owner Scott Freeman said. “We’re sure hoping we can find another culprit, but we have to take this seriously and try to make ourselves better because of it.”


He said the testing of milk samples was ongoing. Existing milk supplies are being dumped.


“We need to try to take responsibility for this regardless the outcome of health department surveys. We’re really trying,” Freeman said.


There have been 11 confirmed cases of the campylobacter bacteria since March 30; the state health department says 10 of those sickened reported drinking raw milk and eight of those 10 reported getting the milk from Kinikin Corner Dairy.


The dairy operates a “cow-share” program, through which some 200 customers owning a stake in the dairy cattle pick up raw milk for their own consumption.


“At this point, the common denominator is our milk. That (case numbers) was enough statistically that they gave us a cease and desist order,” Freeman said.


“The state health department has essentially isolated the source as being the Kinikin Corner Dairy,” Montrose County Health and Human Services Director Peg Mewes said.


Mewes and the state authorities were in the process of contacting each of the 200 shareholders who use the dairy’s raw milk to check whether they had symptoms consistent with campylobacter — diarrhea (sometimes bloody), fever, abdominal cramping, nausea and vomiting. The infection is rarely fatal.


“We don’t know the extent of this so far. We’re still investigating into how many sick people there might have been,” said Dr. Ken Gershman, chief of the state health department’s communicable diseases program.


Of the 10 campylobacter cases tied to raw milk, four were from Montrose County; two from Garfield County and one each were from Delta, Eagle, Ouray and San Miguel counties.


Another case, not thought linked to raw milk, was confirmed in Montezuma County, the state said.


“That number of campylobacter for the Western Slope in that timeframe (since March 30) is very unusual,” Gershman said.


The county’s head of environmental health, Richard Thompson, and the state health department had begun investigating the dairy after healthcare providers began reporting the cases of campylobacter, as required by the state’s communicable disease reporting system.


“That’s our job, to notice blips and we noted blips on the Western Slope,” Gershman said.


“We connected the dots. This is exactly why we have a disease-reporting system in place.”


Cows, along with poultry, are considered “natural reservoirs” for the bacteria, Gershman said.


The bacteria can be passed through cattle’s fecal matter into water or milk, thereby becoming a threat to humans. The infection does not spread from human-to-human, but through the consumption of raw, unpasteurized milk or undercooked poultry.


“Every situation is different, but if it’s in the feces and the feces contaminate the environment in which (cattle and poultry) live, the exact path of the contamination can be almost anything,” Gershman said.


Gershman said Freeman worked with the state, but did not cooperate to the extent of voluntarily pulling the raw milk from distribution.


“We were under the impression he would voluntarily stop distributing it or making it available for distribution,” Gershman said. “The shareholders share the milk with others who may not know what is going on. Our job is to ensure the public’s health.”


Gershman said two of the confirmed campylobacter patients knew they drank raw milk, but not where it came from.


Freeman said the state hadn’t explicitly asked him to pull the milk prior to the order. He alerted his milk share customers, posted notices and spread the word.


“They didn’t really demand it, so I did what I thought was fair,” he said. “They did their next step, which is plum fine.”


Freeman acknowledged there is controversy over consuming raw milk, but said it provides better nutrients and more naturally occurring probiotics.


“Our milk customers are just being adamant about keeping the milk coming,” he said. “Raw milk is more of a natural food source and your body knows what to do with it better.”


Gershman said that the hazards of consuming unpasteurized milk have been known for a century.


“Milk can never be safe without pasteurization. Anyone who chooses to drink that milk is taking a risk with their health,” he said. “This is one of the oldest known unwise things to do.” 4-09-09





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