Raw Milk and Q-Fever

Working for the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) this summer has been an awesome experience.  Both Anthony Klingler and I have been involved with several human and animal diseases.  Earlier this month, three confirmed Q fever cases (caused by Coxiella burnetii, if you can’t remember from micro or public health class) have been reported in Monroe and Washtenaw counties.  Two of the case patients have been sick since December, and one was hospitalized for nearly two weeks.  These cases are all raw (unpasteurized) milk drinkers and are linked to the same cow share program (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Q_fever; http://www.cdc.gov/qfever/).  The farm’s milk also, as told to us by the owner, tested positive for Coxiella burnetii DNA PCR analysis at an out-of-state lab.

For anyone who does not know what a cow share program is…

In many states (including Michigan), the sale of raw milk is illegal due to health concerns http://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/rawmilk/raw-milk-index.html.  However, most of these states do not prohibit farmers from drinking their own cow’s unpasteurized milk.  Therefore, people who want to drink raw milk buy a “share” or part-ownership of a cow at a raw milk dairy and either pick up their milk themselves or get it delivered.  These dairies are not regulated by the state.  Raw milk drinkers believe that pasteurization destroys the beneficial bacteria, nutrients, and “enzymes” in the milk.

Anthony and I have had the opportunity to be involved in the outbreak investigation and response.  Since locating the common source, MDCH has attempted to work with the owner and Local Health Department to notify all of the cow-share members of the milk contamination and facts about Q fever, its symptoms and transmission (has not gone smoothly).  Therefore, recently MDCH sent out a press release in order to inform people in the affected and surrounding counties of the symptoms of Q fever and its potential sources (http://www.annarbor.com/news/q-fever-from-raw-milk-sickens-two-washtenaw-county-women/).  The press release and associated stories have been in local newspapers and local news stations (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfYI0HKbkEY).  Other departments like the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development (MDARD) are working to advise the owner on control of this disease on her farm.  Make sure you read some of the comment following these on-line stories as they are interesting.

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