As may as 20 people are sick in Colorado in an ongoing Campylobacter outbreak, with multiple public health agencies reporting the most likely cause is raw milk from Larga Vista Ranch — some of which appears to have been distributed illegally.
“All the individuals who were sickened reported drinking raw milk from Larga Vista Ranch,” according to a joint notice posted Friday by county and state health officials.
“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 (from cow share deals).”
Public health agencies that are urging consumers to throw out any raw milk products they have from Larga Vista Ranch include the Pueblo and El Paso county health departments and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
In an urgent plea Friday, the three health departments warned consumers that drinking unpasteurized, raw milk can pose severe health risks and there is no method to assure the safety of raw milk.
“Health officials have identified 12 confirmed and eight probable human cases of campylobacter since Aug. 1. The most recent onset of illness was Sept. 16,” according to the Friday notice.
Ten days earlier the outbreak count was at seven confirmed illnesses and nine probable illnesses.
“Many of the confirmed and probable cases have developed symptoms since Aug. 28, so the outbreak might be ongoing,” health officials warned in the advisory Friday.
Anyone who has consumed raw milk products from Larga Vista Ranch and developed symptoms of Campylobacter infection should immediately seek medical attention and inform their health care providers of their possible exposure to the pathogen, according to the Colorado health advisories.
“Campylobacter is a bacteria that is destroyed only by pasteurization,” according to the advisory from the health departments.
“Symptoms of campylobacter infection include fever, diarrhea (that is) sometimes bloody, abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting. Symptoms usually last anywhere from two days to a week.
“The risk of getting sick from drinking raw milk is greater for infants and young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
From 2007 to 2012 the CDC documented 62 Campylobacter outbreaks linked to consumption of raw milk products.
Raw milk distribution limited to members only
Although the sale of raw milk is prohibited in Colorado — except through herd/cow share deals — some of the potentially contaminated raw milk from Larga Vista Ranch was distributed through farmers markets in Colorado Springs, according to a public advisory posted Sept. 12 by the TriCounty Health Department.
“Raw milk must be labeled and cannot be redistributed. The cow share operation continues to distribute the raw milk, because there are no effective measures to stop contamination except pasteurization, which they are not required to do,” according to the health advisory.
When they became aware of a cluster of campylobacter illnesses with the common denominator of raw milk from Larga Vista Ranch, state officials issued a public health order to obtain the operation’s shareholder list.
The department “reached out to all shareholders in an attempt to locate further cases of illness and to inform shareholders about the potential for ongoing contamination of the milk” on Sept 8 and again on Friday.
There are 175 members of the cow share operation, according to the public health advisory. the Larga Vista Ranch website indicates a “share” costs $42 to $50 per month and entitles members to one gallon of milk per week.
Health officials also contacted doctors and other health care entities, encouraging them to be on the lookout for Campylobacter symptoms and test for the bacteria when they suspect it.
“Please also consider providing anticipatory guidance to parents, pregnant women, and immunosuppressed patients on the risks of drinking raw milk,” the health department advisory said.
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