The Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) is investigating multiple gastrointestinal disease reports among people who consumed raw milk before they got sick. Two cases of cryptosporidiosis have been confirmed in people who live in the Chattanooga/Hamilton County Region.
Both cases are associated with raw milk consumption from a dairy cow share program. In the last few months, other individuals have been interviewed about sporadic cases of Campylobacter and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), who also drank raw milk from different sources.
TDH Commissioner Dr. John Dreyzehener said, “Consuming raw milk in the belief it’s healthier than pasteurized milk is a perilous risk that shakes off the possibility of a range of serious and occasionally fatal illnesses for the individuals and anyone they share it with. Our best choice for healthy, nutritious milk is the pasteurized kind. Even if one believes that are health benefits, an upside, is it worth gambling on the downside risk of a serious illness, especially in a child?”
Cow share programs were made legal in 2009 in Tennessee, which allows more consumer access to raw milk. Since those programs were approved, Tennessee has had increasing reports of disease and outbreaks linked to raw milk consumption, which is what has happened in every other state that allows the sale of this type of product.
In 2013, nine Tennessee children became very sick with E. coli O157 infections after drinking raw milk. Five of those children were hospitalized. Three developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a severe life-threatening kidney disease.
Bacteria that is commonly found in raw milk includes Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, E. coli, and Salmonella. The symptoms of these infections include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headaches, fever, and body aches. Those who are sick can pass the bacteria on to others.
TDH Deputy State Epidemiologist Dr. John Dunn said, “raw milk is 150 times more likely to cause a foodborne illness than pasteurized milk and can be life-threatening to some, particularly to children. Those who consume raw milk sold be aware of the serious health risks involved. While some adults may be able to tolerate bacteria found in unpasteurized milk or food products made with raw milk, children, older adults, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems can be in great danger.”