February 27, 2024

Q fever Raw Milk Warning Issued by Missoula Public Health

A Q fever raw milk warning has been issued by Missouri County Public Health in Montana after two cows tested positive for the pathogen Coxiella burnetii, the bacteria that causes the illness. Milk that was recently sold at a local farmers market came from that herd. While one of the cows had not yet produced milk, the other produced about 10% of the farmer’s yield. The farm was not named.

Q fever Raw Milk Warning Issued by Missoula Public Health

Environmental Health Director Shannon Therriault said in a statement, “We don’t know if the cow was shedding the bacteria at the time it was milked, or if that cow’s milk was sold at the farmers market. So we can’t say for sure whether anyone was exposed. However, what we do know is that unpasteurized milk can contain harmful bacteria that can make you and your loved ones sick.

“While drinking ‘raw’ milk has become more widespread in recent years, we want people to know that it can easily be contaminated with harmful bacteria, even when the milking operation is well-run,” she added.

Back in the 1980s, there was a large Salmonella outbreak in Missoula that was linked to unpasteurized milk from a local dairy. More than 100 people were sickened in that outbreak. Half of the cases were in children under the age of 14. The strain of Salmonella in the milk was resistant to multiple drugs, so 15% of those who got sick required hospitalization.

An inspection of the dairy revealed no sanitation laws or practices were broken. After that outbreak, Montana passed a law that all milk sold to consumers had to be pasteurized. When milk pasteurization requirements were passed in the early 1990s, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that deaths and diarrheal illnesses in young children declined dramatically.

But in 2021, the legislature reversed the the ban, and unpasteurized milk sales are now allowed in Montana at a farm, farmers markets, and other traditional community events, as long as the herd has five lactating cows or fewer. The seller must also inform customers that the product is not licensed, certified, packaged, labeled, or inspected under any official regulations.

Symptoms of Q fever can take two to three weeks to manifest. People experience chills, fever, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, stomach pain, diarrhea, weight loss, and a non-productive cough. If you drank raw milk purchased at a farmer’s market in Missoula and have been experiencing these symptoms, see your doctor.

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