Although it is against federal law to sell unpasteurized milk across state lines, the CDC and state health departments are investigating illnesses in at least seven states in relation to Brucella bacteria found in raw milk from a Texas dairy.
One woman in Texas has been in the hospital for weeks with a lab-confirmed case of brucellosis. A sample from her matches antibiotic-resistant Brucella bacteria found in raw milk from K-Bar dairy in Paradise, TX, according to Texas officials and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It’s very important for people who drank raw milk from this dairy to seek treatment to prevent infection with Brucella RB51,” said Dr. William Bower who is leading the CDC’s brucellosis investigation group.
“Even if people don’t have any symptoms now, they can develop a chronic infection that can impact their health for years to come.”
As of this afternoon, the CDC and the Texas State Department of State Health Services had received reports about people who drank K-Bar milk or have symptoms consistent with brucellosis caused by Brucella RB51 in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Ohio, North Dakota, Tennessee and Texas, according to a news release from the CDC.
The Texas department has been warning people about the Brucella bacteria found in the K-Bar milk for more than a month. In an Aug. 14 public alert the state urged consumers who drank the milk and their doctors to consider post-exposure antibiotic treatment, especially if there are brucellosis symptoms involved.
In a similar health alert Wednesday, the CDC recommended a 21-day regimen of rifampin and penicillin for anyone who consumed unpasteurized milk or dairy products from the K-Bar dairy from June 1 through Aug. 7. Brucellosis symptoms can develop as quickly as five days after exposure, but can also take up to six months to develop in some people.
“Initially, people with brucellosis experience fever, sweats, aches and fatigue,” according to CDC’s update today.
“If not treated, Brucella RB51 infection can result in long-term complications, like arthritis, heart problems, enlargement of the spleen or liver, and, in rare cases, nervous system problems. Like meningitis RB51 can cause severe illness in people with weakened immune systems and miscarriages in pregnant women.”
Hundreds may not know of risk
Texas officials report the owners of K-Bar Dairy have been “cooperating fully with the investigation” and has been operating in compliance with state dairy laws and rules.
However, the dairy does not have complete sales records, which has state and federal officials worried that hundreds of people may be unaware of they are at risk. The records K-Bar does have show people outside of Texas could be at risk of infection from its unpasteurized milk.”
“Purchase records and illness reports indicate additional people in Texas and some as far away as California and North Dakota may need antibiotics to prevent or treat infection. In Texas, raw milk is only allowed to be sold on site at the dairy,” according to CDC’s update today.
Raw milk dairies are supposed to maintain contact information on customers in case they need to recall product. Unpasteurized milk is known to carry bacteria and viruses, which pasteurization kills, according to state and federal officials.
“Due to incomplete contact information, CDC staff have been unable to reach about 200 households in which someone bought K-Bar milk. People who sampled the milk at the dairy or got the milk from friends or family also may not be aware of their risk,” CDC reported.
Of the more than 800 households known to have purchased K-Bar raw milk during the exposure period, CDC is attempting to contact 672 and Texas is trying to reach 170. Generally households are considered to consist of an average of four people, meaning thousands of people are at risk of Brucella infection.
Officials do not have contact information on many of the households known to have purchased the contaminated raw milk. For the households that CDC has been able to reach, more than eight out of every 10 people were exposed to the bacteria.
“Of the 485 households with contact information, CDC successfully reached 236 households. Among the 236 households, 83 percent of people were exposed to RB51 by drinking the milk,” the federal agency reported.
Advice to consumers, physicians
People who consumed K-Bar raw milk should monitor themselves and their children for fever for four weeks after they last drank the milk. The CDC advises them to watch for other brucellosis symptoms for six months. These symptoms include but are not limited to muscle pain, lasting fatigue, arthritis, depression and swelling of the testicles.
Doctors can find more information about testing patients for Brucella RB51 and which antibiotics to use to prevent infection on the CDC website at: https://www.cdc.gov/brucellosis/clinicians/rb51-raw-milk.html.
Blood cultures can be used to confirm infections, but the CDC warned health care providers Wednesday to indicate on lab orders that the cultures could grow Brucella, which could infect lab workers if they don’t take special precautions.