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2nd bacteria outbreak from raw milk reported on peninsula

Posted: May 26, 2013 - 12:09am

KENAI — Five people have become ill after drinking raw milk from a Kenai Peninsula farm, the second such outbreak in the last four months, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services said.

A similar bacterial infection sickened more than 30 people in February, the Peninsula Clarion reported.

In both instances, the campylobacter infection started at Peninsula Dairy in Kasilof, a raw milk-cow share operation, said Laura Carpenter, a department of health spokeswoman.

Dairy owner Kevin Byers declined comment Thursday to the Clarion. Attempts to reach him Friday were not immediately successful.

Two people have sought medical attention in the latest outbreak, said Michael Cooper, infections disease program manager for the state section of epidemiology.

All five people who became ill live on the Kenai Peninsula. No deaths have been reported.

The dairy delivers raw milk to shareholders in cities throughout the peninsula, and in Anchorage and Sitka. As of January, it had about 150 active shareholders.

“He said he had contacted his shareholders and let them know,” Cooper said.

The state cannot shut down the dairy since Byers only delivers the milk. The cows are collectively owned by the shareholders, Cooper said.

“If they are owners of the cow, they can drink their milk,” state veterinarian Bob Gerlach said. “And there’s nothing we can do to prevent them from drinking the milk that is the product of an animal that is theirs.”

Gerlach plans to visit the farm next week to collect samples, as he did in February.

The infection, caused by fecal contamination of a cow’s raw milk, began in early May. Symptoms can include diarrhea, stomach pains, nausea, vomiting and arthritis.

Cooper said several children experienced lingering arthritis after the February outbreak.

That outbreak also was tracked back to Peninsula Dairy, Cooper said.

“This is the exact farm, same exact situation (as the last outbreak),” Cooper said.

State health officials also contacted organizers of the Homer Farmer’s Market, which has its first market this weekend.

There will be no raw milk share sign-up at the market this summer, said farmer’s market manager Robbi Mixon.

The state health department is advising anyone who drinks raw milk to stop.

The number of people infected could rise, Cooper said.

“For every one that is confirmed that you know about, there are (likely) 30 or more out there,” he said.

Exact numbers are hard to determine since not everyone reports symptoms.

If anyone is experiencing symptoms, health officials advise them to see a doctor and report the infection to Carpenter at 907-279-4541.

Proponents of raw milk say it is more nutritious than pasteurized milk. Health officials caution against drinking raw milk because of the higher risk of developing a bacterial infection.

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Information from: (Kenai, Alaska) Peninsula Clarion, http://www.peninsulaclarion.com

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