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State says Organic Pastures raw milk caused outbreak

California officials say a January E. coli outbreak was caused by unpasteurized raw milk from Organic Pastures Dairy Co. because laboratory analysis shows the victims’ infections match a “very unusual” type of E. coli found at the dairy and in its products.

Ten people, mostly children, are confirmed to have been infected with the outbreak strain as of Feb. 26, according to a report from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).

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“Of the nine that were interviewed, six reported consuming OPDC (Organic Pastures Dairy Co.) brand raw milk prior to illness onset and three denied known raw milk exposure,” the state reported, adding that the 10th person was not interviewed.

The patients are primarily children, with a median age of 8 years — range 1 to 26 years. Onset dates of illness ranged from Jan. 14 to Jan. 28, 2016. Four were hospitalized, including two children with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), according to the California report.

Mark McAfee, founder and CEO of the 500-cow, organic dairy operation in Fresno, has consistently said the state’s information is incorrect. McAfee did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.

Last month McAfee said he had talked to victims and their parents and that California officials were wrong about the number of sick people and whether any of them developed HUS, which can result in kidney failure.

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Mark McAfee

McAfee contends the batch of Organic Pastures unpasteurized raw milk linked to the outbreak was because of an infection inside one cow’s udder and represents the first time in history that such an infection has been seen.

The dairy sidelined the cow — identified as Cow 149 — and is now doing 20 tests a day as part of a stepped up food safety program at Organic Pastures, McAfee said in February.

California inspectors collected samples from equipment and surfaces at the dairy, as well as soil, water, cow feces on Feb. 8, several days after the implicated cow had been removed from the herd.

“E. coli O157:H7, and PFGE patterns for those isolates, also matched those patterns associated with the illnesses. The collection of environmental samples from OPDC on Feb. 8, 2016, focused on feces likely deposited on Feb. 6, 7, and 8.

“It is unlikely that the positive findings from Feb. 8, 2016, represent conditions linked entirely to Cow 149. The isolation of E. coli O157:H7 and non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing E. coli from cattle used to produce raw milk for human consumption is concerning and could result in additional illness to raw milk consumers in the future if not addressed at the dairy.”

One reason California officials believe the outbreak was caused by unpasteurized raw milk from Organic Pastures is the so-called DNA fingerprint of the pathogen cultured from the all 10 victims and samples from the dairy.

“The predominant (pulsed-field gel electrophoresis) PFGE pattern combination EXHX01.6177 / EXHA26.0628 had only been seen once in the national PulseNet database prior to January 2016, in a child with illness onset in October 2015 who did not drink raw milk, though her family reported that they frequently drank OPDC raw milk. …the laboratory findings to date support that the outbreak strains are from a single source.”

CDC warns raw milk linked to some tuberculosis cases

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention adds to the body of evidence about dangers of consuming unpasteurized raw milk.

The CDC reported Thursday that Mycobacterium bovis, a pathogen found in cows and known to cause tuberculosis in people who consume unpasteurized contaminated dairy products, can lead to airborne person-to-person transmission of tuberculosis.

“The persistence of M. bovis in cattle internationally and the failure to pasteurize dairy products in many locations means that further infections in humans should be anticipated,” according to the CDC.

“Persons with M. bovis infections should be asked about foodborne exposures. Contact investigations for M. bovis disease should be conducted using the same methods as for M. tuberculosis disease.”

The CDC conducted an extensive investigation into two people in Nebraska who were confirmed with pulmonary tuberculosis in 2014 and whose only connection was that they attended the same church. The patients, a 42-year-old man and a 16-year-old girl, had “minimal” interactions and no common dietary exposure, according to the CDC.

Both patients remained contagious for months and 39 percent of 181 people they had contact with tested positive as having latent tuberculosis infections.

“Findings from the contact investigations suggest possible airborne transmission, because approximately one-third of the infections could not be explained by potential exposure in countries where M. tuberculosis complex infections are common,” the CDC reported.

The incubation period has not been well studied, but it potentially ranges from months to years.

“Public health responses to M. bovis pulmonary TB should be the same as those for M. tuberculosis TB, with additional inquiries about consumption of unpasteurized dairy products,” the CDC recommends.

“The ongoing incidence of M. bovis TB in humans substantiates the need to control bovine tuberculosis globally and to pasteurize all milk and dairy products.”

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