Early last summer, at least 8 people were infected by E. coli O157:H7 after consuming raw milk produced at the Hartmann dairy farm in Sibley County. Environmental and animal samples tested positive for the same strain of E. coli O157:H7 as had infected the outbreak victims. Minnesota state health officials also, however, collected animal and environmental samples that tested positive for campylobacter and cryptosporidium. Which leads to today’s announcement by Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) that seven people with a recent history of consuming raw milk have been sickened by campylobacter (3 people) and cryptosporidium (4 people).
When MDH contacted the individuals to inquire about potential causes of their illnesses (a routine public health practice designed to identify likely causes of illness in order to prevent future illnesses) the ill people reported that they had consumed raw milk. Those who named a source named the Hartmann farm. Laboratory tests found that the Campylobacter bacteria and Cryptosporidium parasites in most of the ill people were genetically identical to organisms found in animal and environmental samples taken on the Hartmann farm this past summer.
Apparently, not all of the campylobacter and cryptosporidium cases in the outbreak were able to name a source for the raw milk that they had consumed. Nevertheless, MDH seems to conclude that the illnesses all occurred as the result of consuming Hartmann milk. “We’re concerned that people are continuing to get sick after consuming products from this farm,” said MDH Foodborne Diseases Unit Supervisor Kirk Smith. “We’re also concerned that some people who became ill were given the Hartmann dairy product by friends or neighbors who did not tell them the source.” Moreover, the fact that the illnesses share the same genetic profile as campylobacter and cryptosporidium test results taken from samples at Hartmann farm this summer strongly supports the conclusion that the present illnesses occurred because of Mike Hartmann’s bad milk.
Dr. Smith also noted that, in addition to the illnesses associated with the Hartmann farm, MDH has identified 47 other people since January 1, 2010 who became ill after drinking raw milk from a variety of sources throughout the state; none of these 47 cases was part of an identified outbreak (no two cases reported the same source). Most of the individual cases have been in children or young adults.
“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,” Smith said. “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.”