Due to two recent cases of young children being infected with E. coli, state health officials are reminding Michigan residents of the potential health risks associated with consuming unpasteurized milk or unpasteurized milk products, commonly referred to as raw milk or raw milk products.

The two E. coli O157:H7 cases, which were reported in Oakland and Wayne counties, both involve children who consumed unpasteurized or raw milk prior to their illnesses. Raw milk has been known to be a source of E. coli. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and local health departments are advising people not to consume unpasteurized milk or milk products made from unpasteurized milk.

Raw milk is unavailable for sale in retail stores in Michigan. However, herd or cow share programs exist in the state where members own part of a cow and in return receive raw milk. These programs are not inspected or regulated under Michigan dairy laws. “The public should be aware that raw milk and other unpasteurized dairy products have not been heat treated and, therefore, pose a potentially serious risk to human health,” said Dr. Eden Wells, chief medical executive for MDHHS.

Symptoms of an E. coli infection include severe abdominal cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting. Most people get better within one week, but serious complications can develop. Young children are more likely to develop severe illness and a complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome or HUS. A person with HUS will appear pale, tired, and have a decreased frequency of urination as their kidneys may stop working. 

People can prevent infection by avoiding contact with infected animals and their environments and by only consuming pasteurized milk and milk products. Raw milk has not been treated to kill bacteria that can cause illness. Pasteurization is the process in which milk is heated briefly to kill any bacteria that might be present.  

Unpasteurized milk can contain pathogens that cause a number of serious diseases, such as E. coli O157:H7, hemolytic uremic syndrome, tuberculosis, listeriosis, campylobacteriosis, salmonellosis, brucellosis, and Q fever. Pasteurization is the process in which milk is heated briefly to kill any bacteria that might be present. For more information about unpasteurized milk, visit http://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/rawmilk/raw-milk-index.html.