December 10, 2023

Campylobacter Infections Can Have Long-Term Health Effects

Raw milk Campylobacter outbreaks have sickened at least 47 people in three states over the last four months. Those who became ill suffered symptoms including fever, abdominal cramping, vomiting and diarrhea, which is sometimes bloody for one to three weeks. And for some of them, the illness didn’t end when these symptoms subsided.

Campylobacter in a petri dishThat’s because Campylobacter infection occasionally results in long-term complications such as reactive arthritis which  causes painful swelling of the joints and Guillain-Barré syndrome, which is characterized by the sudden onset of paralysis that can last weeks, months or years.

“Drinking raw milk or eating products made from raw milk can expose you to a variety of pathogens that can result in anything from a few days of diarrhea to kidney failure and death. 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,” said Trisha Robinson, a foodborne illness epidemiologist with the state health department in Minnesota where, this week, at least six people were sickened by raw milk tainted with Campylobacter.

Campylobacter is a pathogen that is transfered via the fecal-oral route, meaning those who develop Campylobacter infections have ingested microscopic amounts of animal feces. Pasteurization kills Campylobacter and other bacteria that cause disease, but raw mik is not pasteurized.

In Alaska, Campylobacter in raw milk from a cow-share program on the Kenai Peninsula sickened 31 people in March and five more in a second outbreak in May. Four of those patients developed reactive arthritis.  In addition to swelling, redness, heat, and pain in the joints, reactive arthritis causes redness and inflammation of the eyes and inflammation of the urinary tract.

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