Anyone who consumed raw milk or raw milk products from Udder Milk in the past six months, especially pregnant women, should immediately seek medical care and start antibiotic therapy for brucellosis.
The Tuesday warning from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was the strongest yet in a series of state and federal alerts about unpasteurized milk sold by Udder Milk, an apparent distributing business based in New Jersey.
Public health investigators have not yet been able to find out what dairies supply Udder Milk. That is complicating traceback efforts and making it impossible to narrow the number of people potentially exposed to Brucella bacteria in the suspect milk.
“Because health officials have no direct way to let people know they may have drunk contaminated milk, everyone who consumed milk from Udder Milk in the past six months should receive antibiotics now to avoid having long-term health effects from the bacteria,” said Dr. William Bower, team lead for the CDC group that investigates infections from Brucella bacteria.
State officials in New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island are working with the CDC, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration on the investigation. The FDA reported that attempts to contact the operators of Udder Milk have been unsuccessful.
People who drank or ate raw dairy products from Udder Milk may have been infected with a rare, serious bacterium called Brucella abortus RB51, according to the CDC.
“Until more information is available about which farms may be supplying contaminated milk or until officials can test milk from the farms, CDC recommends that anyone who drank raw milk or consumed raw milk products from Udder Milk in the past six months visit their doctor for antibiotics to prevent illness,” the Tuesday warning said.
Multi-drug resistant strain of Brucella
The strain of Brucella abortus RB51 — which CDC confirmed to have infected at least one person in New Jersey who drank unpasteurized, raw milk from the Udder Milk company — is resistant to more than one “front-line” antibiotic. That makes it even more important for everyone who consumed unpasteurized Udder Milk products to immediately seek medical attention, according to the CDC.
“… people who consumed raw milk from Udder Milk should tell their doctor that they may have been exposed to this particular Brucella strain. Doctors can learn more about testing patients for RB51 and which antibiotics can prevent or cure infection at https://www.cdc.gov/brucellosis/clinicians/rb51-raw-milk.html,” the CDC advised.
In addition to seeking medical attention, anyone who consumed raw products from Udder Milk or gave them to their children should check daily for fever for 30 days after they last ate or drank anything from Udder Milk. They should watch for other brucellosis symptoms for six months.
Symptoms can include muscle pain, lasting fatigue, arthritis, depression and swelling of the testicles. Untreated Brucella RB51 infection can result in long-term health problems like arthritis, heart problems, enlargement of the spleen or liver, and in rare cases, nervous system problems like meningitis.
Brucella abortus RB51 can cause severe illness in young children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems. It can cause pregnancy complications, including miscarriages.
People in at least four states at risk
Federal law prohibits the interstate sale of unpasteurized dairy products, but as recently as this past weekend, the Udder Milk website showed delivery locations in New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
It is illegal to sell unpasteurized milk in New Jersey. In New York it is illegal to sell it anywhere other than the farm where it was produced. Rhode Island allows the sale of raw goat milk, under strict licensing regulations. Connecticut allows on-farm and retail sales of raw milk but has specific licensing and inspection regulations.
New Jersey’s Department of Health ordered Udder Milk — self-described as a “co-op on wheels” — to cease and desist its illegal sales of raw milk on Nov. 9. The business appears to have continued operating, according to a notice from the FDA on Friday evening.
Rhode Island officials issued a similar cease and desist order for Udder Milk on Nov. 15. New York officials followed suit on Nov. 17.
The Udder Milk company hit public health radar screens in late September when a New Jersey woman became ill after drinking raw milk from the company. CDC confirmed her illness was Brucella RB51 in late October.
The New Jersey patient is the second known domestically acquired illness caused by Brucella RB51 in raw milk in the United States this year. The other was in Texas in July and was traced to the K-Bar Dairy near Paradise, TX.
The Texas and New Jersey incidents are not connected, according to federal officials. However, Texas officials have been working with the CDC and several other states because of reports of illnesses with symptoms consistent with brucellosis among people who drank raw milk from K-Bar.
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