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Vincent Iannelli, M.D.

Outbreaks Caused by Raw Milk

By February 21, 2012

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Raw Milk - Andreas Rentz / Getty ImagesThe outbreak from a Pennsylvania dairy that has gotten at least 77 people sick this past month with campylobacteriosis has reminded many people about the risk of drinking raw milk.

Those people should keep in mind that these aren't isolated events. A CDC report that will be published in the March issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, "Nonpasteurized Dairy Products, Disease Outbreaks, and State Laws--United States, 1993-2006," found that outbreaks caused by raw milk or unpasteurized milk and products made with raw milk are 150 times greater than outbreaks linked to pasteurized milk.

The study also found that from 1993 to 2006:

  • of 121 outbreaks, 60% were caused by raw milk, even though raw milk only made up 1% of the milk consumed during that time period
  • 13% of patients in raw milk outbreaks were hospitalized compared to 1% in pasteurized milk outbreaks.
  • children were more likely than adults to become seriously ill from the bacteria in raw milk

What about the purported health benefits of raw milk?

"While some people think that raw milk has more health benefits than pasteurized milk, this study shows that raw milk has great risks, especially for children, who experience more severe illnesses if they get sick," said study co-author Barbara Mahon, M.D., M.P.H., deputy chief of CDC's DFWED Enteric Diseases Epidemiology Branch. "Parents who have lived through the experience of watching their child fight for their life after drinking raw milk now say that it's just not worth the risk."

Also remember that the AAP advises that kids don't drink raw, unpasteurized juice too.

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