At least 31 residents of Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula were sickened early this year in a Campylobacter outbreak linked to raw milk, according to a report from state health officials. While this outbreak, which lasted from early January to mid-February, appears to be over, the farm whose raw milk caused the outbreak could still be serving contaminated product, according to the document, published by the Alaska Section of Epidemiology (SOE) last week. Between January 8 and February 13, 31 people between the ages of 7 months and 72 years old fell ill with Campylobacter coli infections that were ultimately linked to a cow-share program on the peninsula. Of the victims, two were hospitalized and four developed reactive arthritis, a painful inflammation of the joints caused by bacterial infections that can last up to a year. The SOE report reveals that health officials had identified the cow-share program on the peninsula as the outbreak source by February 14. The following day, SOE and the Office of the State Veterinarian informed the implicated dairy and the public of the problem; however the dairy continued to sell its raw milk products on the Kenai Peninsula and in Anchorage. At that point, 29 cases of Campylobacter coli had been linked to the dairy. The following week, after two more cases were identified, health officials issued an updated health advisory, after which they say the cow share program provided them with a list of its customers that turned out to be incomplete and lacked contact information for most shareholders. On February 22, health officials conducted an environmental investigation at the cow-share operation, collecting samples from cow feces, milk and areas of the farm that come into contact with the milk during production. While the outbreak strain of Campylobacter coli wasn’t isolated from samples taken that day, three separate strains of Campylobacter jejuni were found in samples of cow feces, and Listeria monocytogenes was cultured from a sample of raw milk. Because other pathogenic bacteria were present on the farm, health authorities say its products could still cause illnesses in the future. The SOE report offers the following advice to consumers, healthcare providers and producers of raw dairy items:
– Health care providers should educate families about the risks of consuming raw dairy products. Informational materials are available at http://www.realrawmilkfacts.com/
– Providers should obtain stool cultures in patients with acute GI illness and history of raw dairy consumption.
– Providers should promptly report cases of Campylobacter infections to SOE by calling (907) 269-8000.
– Cow/goat-share operators should maintain current and legible shareholder/distribution records and share these records promptly with health officials if an outbreak is suspected to be linked to their farm.