CDC issues warning over potentially contaminated raw milk

By Ashley Welch

/ CBS News

Health officials say they are investigating after people in 19 states may have been exposed to dangerous drug-resistant bacteria from drinking raw milk. At least one person has gotten sick.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one case of an infection called brucellosis has been confirmed in New York. The individual consumed raw, unpasteurized milk from Miller's Biodiversity Farm in Quarryville, Pennsylvania.

Investigators have determined that people in 19 states bought or consumed raw milk from the farm. The milk was sold in Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Virginia.

Officials say an unknown number of people may have been exposed to the bacteria, Brucella strain RB51, from drinking the raw milk from this farm.

Brucella is a harmful germ that can be passed from animals to humans. This particular type of Brucella is resistant to first-line drugs and can be difficult to diagnose because of limited testing options, the CDC says. Symptoms are similar to those of more common illnesses like flu, also making it difficult to catch.

RB51 is a live, weakened strain used in vaccines to protect cows from more serious Brucella infections. In rare instances, cows receiving this vaccine can shed the bacteria in their milk. If the milk isn't pasteurized to kill the germs, people who consume it can become infected.

The New York case of brucellosis is the third known instance of human infection with RB51 associated with consuming raw milk or raw milk products produced in the United States. The other two cases were in October 2017 in New Jersey and in August 2017 in Texas. In addition to these three confirmed cases, officials say hundreds of other people were potentially exposed during the same period.

Symptoms of brucellosis

Initial symptoms of brucellosis (the illness caused by Brucella bacteria) include:

Symptoms can begin anywhere from five days to as long as six months after exposure. The infection can be treated with antibiotics, but those who are not treated can go on to develop more serious complications, such as arthritis, heart problems, enlargement of the spleen or liver, and, in rare cases, nervous system problems, like meningitis.

In pregnant women, a Brucella infection can lead to a miscarriage.

Advice to consumers

The CDC says people who have consumed raw milk from Miller's Biodiversity Farm in Quarryville, Pennsylvania since January 2016 may have been exposed and should talk to their doctor.

Those who are still within six months of exposure should receive antibiotics to prevent an infection and symptoms. They should continue to monitor their health for six months and if symptoms appear, seek medical treatment immediately.

People who have consumed raw milk from the farm more than six months ago but who have had symptoms of brucellosis and have not been treated should see their doctor right away for testing to determine if they need treatment to avoid long-term health problems.

Finally, consumers should throw away any raw milk or raw milk products from this dairy farm.

First published on February 13, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Ashley Welch

Ashley Welch covers health and wellness for CBSNews.com

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