Officials are advising that mare’s milk should be heat treated to kill Brucella, despite the low risk of brucellosis in Germany.
The joint opinion from Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) and Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut (FLI) assessed to what extent brucellosis infection can occur in horses in Germany and other brucellosis-free countries. They looked at if it is excreted by infected horses through milk and how to classify the risk of infection from non-heat treated horse milk.
BfR and FLI said the risk of brucellosis from consuming non-heat treated horse milk is low. Because other pathogens can be present, the BfR advises people to heat horse milk to 72 degrees Celsius for two minutes before consumption. Unpasteurized, raw milk and cheese made from raw milk is the major source of brucellosis in humans.
The agencies said the causative agent of brucellosis may be excreted in the milk of infected mares but there is currently no reliable epidemiological or animal data available. Common test methods for cow’s milk cannot be transferred to mare’s milk, said BfR and FLI.
Brucellosis is a bacterial disease caused by Brucella species, which mainly infect cattle, swine, goats, sheep and dogs. Horses can become infected if in close contact with such animals. Humans generally acquire it through direct contact with infected animals or by eating or drinking contaminated animal products.
Risk of horse brucellosis is low in countries that are officially free of sheep, goat and bovine brucellosis, but infected animals could be imported from risk areas. Since 2014, a significant increase of imported infections caused by Brucella melitensis have been observed in Germany. Patients predominantly originated from the Middle East, including Turkey and Syria.
The sales volume of non-heat-treated mare’s milk in Germany or how many farms produce mare’s milk is not known, but it is known to be a niche product sold by farms via the internet.
In central and northern Europe, brucellosis has been controlled in production animals and is rarely found. In Germany, cattle, sheep and goat populations have officially been deemed free of brucellosis since 2000; only in pigs are outbreaks sporadically reported.
Brucellosis must by law be reported in Germany and in 2013, officials recorded eight. Most patients had contracted the infection during a stay in an endemic area abroad. In most cases, consumption of raw goat milk or raw sheep milk was the cause of the infection.
In 2016, there were 534 confirmed brucellosis cases reported in Europe, with the highest rates in southern EU countries Greece, Portugal and Italy. Almost 72 percent of 150 brucellosis cases with known information were hospitalized and one person died.
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