The risks of drinking raw milk: bacteria, parasites and theoretically rabies.

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by Robert Herriman, Infectious Disease Examiner, October 31, 2010,

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) reported additional cases of infectious organisms being transmitted through consumption of raw milk.

Raw milk consumed from Hartmann dairy farm in Sibley County has several people sick from two different infectious organisms, the bacteria Campylobacter jejuni and the parasite Crytosporidium parvum. These organisms were laboratory confirmed.

But these cases are only been the tip of the iceberg this year from raw milk consumption in the state. So far this year there have been 47 documented cases of foodborne illness from ingesting raw milk including an outbreak this summer with E.coli O157:H7 from raw milk.

As MDH Foodborne Diseases Unit Supervisor Kirk Smith wisely notes, “While we are very concerned about the ongoing illnesses associated with this one farm, this isn’t just about one farm selling raw milk and making people sick, this also is about the inherent risk of any raw milk. People need to think carefully about those risks before consuming raw dairy products from any source, and people need to know that the risks are especially high for young children.”

And he is absolutely correct.

In a paper titled, “Milk of Nonhuman Origin and Infectious Diseases in Humans”, John Leedom from USC points out the many risks of drinking raw or unpasteurized milk. The list is a cornucopia of infectious agents: Salmonella species, Campylobacter species, Listeria monocytogenes, Brucella abortus, Brucella melitensis, Mycobacterium bovis,Tick-borne encephalitis, Yersinia enterocolitica and he discusses the theoretical possibility of rabies transmission:

Quarantined cow with rabies.

“In1996 and 1998, there were 2 episodes involving rabid cows that occurred in Massachusetts. Milk from rabid cows can contain rabies virus, and transmission via unpasteurized milk is theoretically possible. Temperatures reached during pasteurization kill the virus. Eighty persons consumed unpasteurized milk that was collected from the 2 cows, and 9 more had contact with saliva from the cows. All 89 persons received postexposure rabies prophylaxis, and no human cases of rabies eventuated. A similar report in Oklahoma of possible rabies exposure associated with the consumption of raw milk or cream from a rabid cow was circulated in 2006.”

As Kirk Smith also notes in the news release, “Whatever is in cow poop is going to wind up in raw milk. It is impossible to produce raw milk without those kinds of things happening.”


2 responses to “The risks of drinking raw milk: bacteria, parasites and theoretically rabies.

  1. Diana, Medical Mom

    I have been raised on raw milk (from healthy cows) since I was a small child living in Idaho. The worse problem seemed to be the onion flavor in the milk during the spring when the wild onions grew in the fields. When I went through a nutrition class during nurses training in college in the early 70s, my instructor was horrified that I had been raised on raw milk after she asked everyone in the class about which kind of milk all the students were raised on. She openly ridiculed me in class in front of all the students!! She said that I would be dead before I was 30! However, 35 + years later, I am the healthiest of all these former friends and students that have been raised on store-bought pasteurized milk. Until just a few years ago, we had a milk cow, but the milk had no contact with “cow poop” because we had an enclosed milking system. We were very clean with our milking procedures. I take offense to the statement ““Whatever is in cow poop is going to wind up in raw milk. It is impossible to produce raw milk without those kinds of things happening.” It makes it look like bunch of ninnies are milking the cows without regard to hygiene or cleanliness.

  2. I too was raised on unpasturized gurnsey cow milk for the first 5 years of
    of my life while living on a farm with my grandparents., The next 12 years I enjoyed fresh goat milk as I had to move to the city to live with my parents to attend city school and cows were not permitted within the city limits. For the next 60 years I drank what ever The FDA and the USDA approved as safe. I am currently 81 years old and still do anything that I ever did. I guess what I’m trying to say is that neither raw milk or the pastureized , homogenized feed lot milk is going to kill you.

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