State and local health officials in two counties are investigating an ongoing outbreak of Campylobacter infections linked to raw milk from Larga Vista Ranch in Pueblo County.
According to the Pueblo City-County Health Department, El Paso County Public Health and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, 12 confirmed and eight probable human cases of campylobacter have been identified since Aug. 1.
The most recent onset of illness was September 16. All the individuals who were sickened reported drinking raw milk from Larga Vista Ranch. All 20 confirmed and probable campylobacter cases live in Pueblo and El Paso counties.
Health officials are warning consumers that drinking unpasteurized milk can pose severe health risks and there is no method to assure the safety of raw milk.
The state health department notified approximately 175 people who are participants in the Larga Vista cow share operation on Sept. 8 and will do so again today. Cow-share operations allow individuals to buy a share of a cow and in return receive raw, unpasteurized milk.
Some of those sickened in this outbreak were not shareholders, but obtained raw milk from others who were. Shareholders are not permitted to redistribute the raw milk they receive.
The sale of raw milk for human consumption is illegal in Colorado. However, people may legally obtain raw milk by joining a herdshare (ownership of a cow, goat, or herd) program. Shareholders cannot distribute raw milk further.
People are advised not to consume raw milk and raw milk products from Larga Vista and to discard any such products in their homes.
What is Campylobacter?
It is a bacterium that can be found in chicken, in healthy cattle, birds, raw milk, and contaminated water. Most cases of campylobacteriosis are associated with eating raw or undercooked poultry meat or from cross-contamination of other foods by these items. Infants may get the infection by contact with poultry packages in shopping carts. It is also possible to get infected from the feces of an infected pet cat or dog. It is the leading cause of bacterial diarrhea in the United States, more than Salmonella and Shigella combined.
It doesn’t take a lot of this organism to get you ill. In some studies it showed that as little as 500 organisms can cause disease in some individuals.
Campylobacter jejuni, the species most often implicated in infection, causes diarrhea, which may be watery or sticky and can contain blood and white blood cells. Other symptoms often present are fever, abdominal pain, nausea, headache and muscle pain. The illness usually occurs 2-5 days after ingestion of the contaminated food or water. Illness generally lasts 7-10 days, but relapses are not uncommon (about 25% of cases).
There can be complications associated with campylobacteriosis; they include arthritis and neurological disorder Guillain-Barré syndrome. It is estimated that the latter is seen in one out of every 1000 cases of Campylobacter.
Most cases of Campylobacter are self-limiting and do not require treatment. However, severe cases can be treated with antibiotics to shorten the length of the disease.
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