Health department officials reported that the three victims, all women in their 30s and 40s, had participated in a dairy herd share program in Livingston County, Michigan. According to a news article by Rosemary Parker, a reporter for the Kalamazoo Gazette:
Members of herd or cow share programs own part of a cow in return for raw dairy products. . . . These programs are not inspected or regulated under Michigan’s dairy laws, and these products are not available at retail stores.
Q fever, originally known as “query” fever before the causative agent was discovered, is a disease caused by infection with Coxiella burnetii. Although it is rarely seen, the organism is often found in farm animals such as cattle, sheep, and goats. These animals will shed the bacteria in their bodily fluids; therefore, humans can become infected with Coxiella burnetii by consuming unpasteurized milk that contains the bacteria. Frighteningly, individuals can be infected by a single bacterium.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
Q fever can cause acute or chronic illness in humans, who usually acquire infection after contact with infected animals or exposure to contaminated environments. The acute symptoms caused by infection with Coxiella burnetii usually develop within 2-3 weeks of exposure, although as many as half of humans infected with C. burnetii do not show symptoms.
Symptoms will typically include high fevers, fatigue, severe headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.
In light of these three reported illnesses, Dr. Dean Sienko, interim chief medical executive for MDCH, urged the public to consider to risks involved with the consumption of raw milk. He said, “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.” In addition to being a source of the Q fever-causing bacteria Coxiella burnetii, Sienko added, “Unpasteurized milk and dairy products may contain many types of disease-causing germs, such as E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter.”
For more information about the potential dangers of consuming raw or unpasteurized milk, visit http://www.realrawmilkfacts.com/.