Raw milk suspected as cause of bacterial infections among four children in Hardin County and one in Oldham County

Five children in the Louisville region were recently hospitalized with E. coli bacterial infections, and all had consumed unpasteurized milk, state health agencies found. Investigators have not yet proven that raw milk caused the infections, but “found raw milk was the only common factor among the sick children,” Forrest Berkshire reports for The Kentucky Standard in Bardstown and The News-Enterprise of Elizabethtown.

Four of the children are from Hardin County, and one is from Oldham. All went to a hospital to be treated for complications of E. coli, which attacked their red blood cells and affected their kidneys. The Lincoln Trail District Health Department said tests of milk from the suspected dairy and distributors were negative for E. coli, a bacterium common to the intestinal tracts of mammals.

“Pasteurization is the process of heating a liquid such as milk to a high enough temperature to destroy disease-causing microorganisms,” Berkshire explains. “It also increases the shelf life of milk by destroying spoilage microorganisms and enzymes.”

The state Department for Public Health said, “DPH is stressing the dangers of unpasteurized milk after learning all the affected children had consumed it and because it is a known source of E. coli bacteria, as well as numerous other pathogens that can lead to illness.”

Selling raw milk is illegal in Kentucky, but is available through a “herd share,” which allows members to buy an interest in a cow that allows them to take the milk home. “Northern Kentucky U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, a Republican, introduced two bills earlier this year he characterized as ‘milk freedom legislation’ and would strip the U.S. Food and Drug Administration of its authority to police raw milk sales,” Berkshire writes. Supporters of raw milk say it helps people resist disease and promotes better growth, stronger teeth and better behavior.

However, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study over a decade that found “the risk of outbreaks caused by raw milk is at least 150 times greater than the risk of outbreaks caused by pasteurized milk,” Berkshire reports.

Kentucky law requires milk must be pasteurized, and officials encourage buyers to check labels to make sure it is, and throw it out if pasteurization cannot be confirmed. “Even negative tests do not guarantee that raw milk is safe to drink,” the CDC says on its “Raw Milk Questions and Answers” webpage. “People have become very sick from drinking raw milk that came from farms that regularly tested their milk for bacteria and whose owners were sure that their milk was safe.” (Read more)

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