The Oregon farm whose raw milk is the suspected source of an E. coli outbreak that has sickened 19 has now been associated with two more foodborne illness victims.
Health officials reported Monday that two adults who had consumed raw milk from Foundation Farm had contracted infections from two different pathogens – Campylobacter and Cryptosporidium.
It is not clear whether these illnesses came from the farm’s raw milk or from another source, says William Keene, Senior Epidemiologist at the Oregon Public Health Division. And without more than one illness, neither of these cases will be classified as part of an outbreak.
However, when investigating last month’s E. coli outbreak linked to the farm, there were some unconfirmed illnesses that Keene says were not definitively identified as E. coli.
“Of the people we did interview we learned about these additional clinically compatible illnesses, some of which I suppose could be Cryptosporidium or Campylobacter. This wasn’t on our radar when we were doing that so we identified them as presumptive E. coli O157:H7 cases,” he told Food Safety News.
“If we get a second Campylobacter all of a sudden that’s going to throw these presumptive O157s into that limbo of well they could be O157s or they could be Campylobacter,” says Keene. “Without a culture you can’t be sure, so that’ll just be a definitional issue that might arise.”
Last week investigators confirmed that samples from the farm’s cows, milk and manure had tested positive for a strain of E. coli identical to the one found in 8 of the victims linked to the outbreak.
But as no testing was done for Campylobacter or Cryptosporidium, epidemiologists cannot say whether these latest cases can be traced to the farm – a cow share operation in Northwest Oregon.
Keene says samples from the raw milk linked to the E. coli outbreak will probably no longer be viable for cryptosporidium or Campylobacter testing.
One of the two most recently sickened Foundation Farm patrons had continued to drink raw milk from the farm after the Oregon Public Health Division warned consumers that the milk had been potentially linked to an E. coli outbreak last month, said Keene.
“A lot of people have quite an attachment to this product,” he notes.
In that outbreak, which may still be ongoing, four children ages 1, 3, 14 and 14 were hospitalized with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a complication of E. coli infection that causes kidney failure. According to the most recent information, all four are still in the hospital.
“Some of them are fighting for their lives,” says Keene.
“Milk is good for most people,” wrote Mel Kohn, Director of Oregon’s Public Health Division in a guest column in the Oregonian in April. “It is packed with vitamins, calcium and protein. But history has taught us over and over again that milk needs to pasteurized to be safe. These latest events have taught us that painful lesson yet again,” he said in the piece discussing the ongoing E. coli outbreak last month.
“Raw milk is essentially a suspension of fecal organisms in a nutrient broth,” explains Keene. “Milk is a great growth medium for bacteria and raw milk is always contaminated with fecal-oral organisms. It’s a question of whether that particular tank has got something from an animal that happened to be shedding cryptosporidium or E. coli or whatever.”
Campylobacter is a bacterium transmitted through animal feces that causes diarrhea (often bloody), abdominal pain, fever, nausea and vomiting. Symptoms typically appear 2-5 days after exposure, but can begin up to 10 days after ingestion.
Cryptosporidium is a parasite – often spread through water contamination. Cryptosporidium infections are characterized by abdominal cramps or pain, dehydration, nausea, vomiting, fever and weight loss.
If you think you may have contracted either of these types of infection, contact your healthcare provider.