Texas officials say all raw milk and other unpasteurized products from K-Bar Dairy should not be consumed and should immediately be discarded because the dairy has been linked to an antibiotic-resistant strain of Brucella bacteria that has hospitalized at least one person.
“At this time, it is uncertain how long Brucella (bacteria) may have been present in the raw milk from this dairy. Testing is ongoing in an attempt to answer that question,” according to the Monday alert from the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS).
Especially at risk is anyone who has consumed raw milk or other unpasteurized dairy products from K-Bar Dairy, which is in Paradise, TX, since June 1. These individuals are considered to be at high risk of contracting brucellosis.
However, all unpasteurized dairy products sold since Jan. 1 this year are suspect at this point. Anyone who has become ill this year after consuming raw dairy products from K-Bar should seek medical attention, even if the symptoms have subsided, according to the state health alert.
The health department did not indicate whether the dairy, which is licensed for on-farm sales of unpasteurized milk, is continuing to operate. Owners of K-Bar did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.
The K-Bar Dairy website did not have any information about the state warning as of Monday evening. The Facebook and Twitter pages for the family-owned operation were not operational Monday evening.
Alert urges doctors to be on watch
Brucellosis, the illness caused by the Brucella bacteria, is relatively rare and can be difficult to diagnose, Texas health officials warned, because many physicians are not familiar with the symptoms. Specific lab tests are also required to confirm the infection.
“If a patient seeks consultation because they consumed raw milk or raw milk products from this dairy between January and June, 2017 they should be advised to be watchful for signs of chronic Brucellosis and clinically evaluated as appropriate,” the Texas health alert recommended to doctors and nurses.
“As a healthcare professional, we ask you to familiarize yourself with Brucellosis, since it is an uncommon infection and can present with a wide variety of non-specific symptoms and signs that can wax and wane over weeks or even months.”
Initial symptoms can include fever, sweats, malaise, anorexia, headache, pain in muscles, joint, and/or back, and fatigue.
Some signs and symptoms may persist for longer periods of time. Others may never go away or reoccur. These can include recurrent fevers, arthritis, swelling of the testicle and scrotum area, inflammation of the heart, chronic fatigue, depression and swelling of the liver and spleen. Neurologic symptoms develop in up to 5 percent of all cases, according to the Texas health department.
Brucellosis is particularly dangerous during pregnancy and can result in is premature delivery, miscarriage or intrauterine infection with fetal death. Neonatal infection may occur through transplacental transmission or through breastfeeding.
“Treatment consists of combination antibiotic therapy. Depending on the timing of treatment and severity of illness, recovery may take a few weeks to several months,” according to the alert.
Although the symptoms can linger and victims can have lasting complications, death from brucellosis is rare, occurring in no more than 2 percent of all cases, the Texas health department reported.
The index patient
Described by public health officials as the index patient, the person who is currently hospitalized with a brucellosis infection has had symptoms of fever, fatigue and pain in muscles and joints. A blood culture test was necessary to diagnose the infection.
“The strain of Brucella recovered from the index patient in this case is resistant to rifampin and penicillin,” according to the Texas health alert.
“Through investigation by DSHS, the most probable source of the infection was determined to be raw cow’s milk which the person had been consuming. The source of the milk was K-Bar Dairy.”
Standing warning against raw milk
The Texas health department is on record with a standing warning about the dangers of unpasteurized, or so-called raw milk, products, as are most other local, state and federal public health agencies. Pasteurization, which involves heating milk, kills microscopic organisms in milk that can cause serious infections in people.
“This raw, unpasteurized milk can carry dangerous bacteria such as Brucella, Listeria, Salmonella, E. coli, and Campylobacter, which are responsible for causing numerous foodborne illnesses and outbreaks,” according to the Texas alert. “The Texas Department of State Health Services recommends that people drink and eat only pasteurized dairy products — including soft cheese, ice cream, and yogurt.
“This is especially important for people at higher risk for foodborne illness: children younger than 5, pregnant women, adults 65 and older, and people with weakened immune systems. However, healthy people of any age can get very sick or even die if they drink raw milk contaminated with harmful germs.”
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)