CDC public health alert

Although it’s illegal to sell unpasteurized milk across state lines, federal officials say people in 19 states have been exposed to drug-resistant Brucella after consuming raw milk from Miller’s Biodiversity Farm in Pennsylvania.

In a nationwide food safety alert, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that anyone who has consumed raw dairy products from the farm in the past three years should check in with their doctors. The outbreak strain of Brucella — RB51 — is resistant to rifampin, one of the antibiotics that is typically be used to prevent or treat brucellosis.

The CDC and state officials are urging consumers to throw away any raw dairy products from Miller’s Biodiversity Farm that they have in their homes.  

“People who consumed raw milk or raw milk products from this dairy farm since January 2016 may have been exposed and should talk to their doctor,” according to the CDC food safety alert.

There is an even more immediate health threat to people who have had unpasteurized, raw dairy products from Miller’s Biodiversity Farm in Quarryville, PA, in recent months. Even if they haven’t developed symptoms of Brucella infection, they should immediately seek medical attention, according to the CDC.

“People who are still within six months of the date they last consumed the raw milk are at an increased risk for brucellosis and should receive antibiotics to prevent infection and symptoms, and should monitor their health for possible symptoms for six months. If symptoms develop, they should see their doctor immediately for testing,” the CDC says in its alert.

“People who last drank raw milk from this dairy more than six months ago and have had symptoms of brucellosis — but not been treated — should see their doctor immediately for testing that can determine if they are infected and need antibiotics to prevent long-term health problems caused by brucellosis.”

The CDC and state officials from health and agriculture departments have been investigating Brucella infections among people who consumed raw dairy products since at least November 2018. At that time, public health officials confirmed a case of antibiotic-resistant brucellosis from the specific strain RB51 in a New York patient.

“… an unknown number of people may have been exposed to RB51 from drinking the milk from this farm (Miller’s Biodiversity Farm). A cow that tested positive for RB51 has been removed from the milking herd,” according to the CDC alert.

Investigators have discovered people in 19 states bought or consumed raw milk from the Pennsylvania farm. The CDC alert did not report how the unpasteurized, raw milk had been illegally transported or sold across state lines. The 19 states are Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Virginia.

Health officials confirmed two other human cases of brucellosis in October 2017 in New Jersey and in August 2017 in Texas, according to the CDC. Those patients reported drinking raw milk from an online retailer and a Texas farm, respectively. 

The three confirmed cases in New York, New York, and Texas, mean hundreds of other people have been potentially exposed to RB51, the CDC reported.

Brucellosis infection
The CDC alert urges people who consumed Miller’s Biodiversity Farm raw milk or other unpasteurized dairy products made from it to watch for the symptoms of infection. Also, people who served raw dairy products to children should monitor them for symptoms. Anyone who served raw dairy products to guests should notify those people of the risk for Brucella infection.

Initial symptoms of brucellosis can include fever, sweats, loss of appetite, headache, fatigue, muscle, and joint pain, and potentially more serious complications.

  • Symptoms can start anywhere from five days to six months after exposure.
  • In some patients, symptoms may develop and then appear to subside, only to develop again repeatedly during the following months. 
  • In pregnant patients, brucella infections can lead to miscarriage.
  • Children are at increased risk because their immune systems are not fully developed.

People who are infected but are not treated can go on to develop more serious complications like arthritis; heart problems; enlargement of the spleen or liver; and, in rare cases, nervous system problems, like meningitis.

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