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Tuberculosis in Raw Milk is Yet Another Reason to Consider Pasteurization

Posted in Our Blog,Raw Milk on May 27, 2024

We all know that raw milk could potentially carry harmful germs like E. coli, Campylobacter, and now bird flu. But Tuberculosis in raw milk is yet another reason to consider pasteurization.

A study gathering data about incidences of tuberculosis brings up this seldom thought of risk associated with raw milk.

What exactly is Tuberculosis, how is it transmitted, and what can you do to prevent becoming infected by food?

What is Tuberculosis?

The most common cause of tuberculosis illness found in humans is caused by the bacterial strain, Mycobacterium tuberculosis sensu stricto followed by Mycobacterium africanum.

However, people can become sick with tuberculosis illness in many different ways. One common mode of transmission is known as zoonotic tuberculosis. This is usually associated with infection of the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis.

According to a 2019 evaluation of active tuberculosis infections in humans, there were 10 million cases that year. There were also 140,000 newly acquired cases of zoonotic tuberculosis cases that year, with 11,400 associated fatalities.

People Can Become Infected by Animal, But Animals Can Also Become Infected by Humans Too!

Tuberculosis bacteria are what is known as a zoonotic pathogen. Meaning, that an infected animal can cause infection in humans.

Tuberculosis, however, is a unique bacterium in that not only can humans become infected by animals; animals can also become infected by humans.

This makes this bad bug not only a zoonotic pathogen, but a reverse zoonotic pathogen.

How is Tuberculosis Transmitted

In the case of zoonotic tuberculosis illness, the most common mode of transmission is consuming raw milk or unpasteurized dairy products. For those with extreme exposure, such as ranch workers, inhaling aerosols containing the harmful Tuberculosis bacteria can also be a transmission risk.

The Connection for Tuberculosis in Raw Milk

In the case of Bovine tuberculosis infection, the bacteria can infect the dairy cow and then reproduce in the udders of the animal.

When humans consume milk from an infected animal that has not been heat treated, they can consume the bacteria right along with all of the nutrients in the milk.

This is why tuberculosis infection is of greater concern for those consuming raw dairy products more so than those consuming pasteurized dairy products.

Preventing Foodborne Tuberculosis in Raw Milk

While regular herd testing and segregating infected animals is a good step in reducing the instances of Tuberculosis in raw milk and subsequent human exposure, it isn’t foolproof.

The only way to be sure that no harmful microorganisms are present in your milk is to pasteurize it. Or rather, only consume pasteurized dairy products.

What is Pasteurization?

Pasteurization is a widely used process dating back to 1864, where the namesake inventor, Louis Pasteur discovered a way to treat beverages to kill harmful microorganisms that are responsible for diseases such as listeriosis, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, diphtheria, Q fever, and brucellosis.

The original purpose was to help increase the shelf life of things like beer, wine, and other beverages. However, it is most commonly associated with milk. As a result, the number of milk-related outbreaks has dropped from the 25% of annual outbreaks prior to mainstream pasteurization to only 1% now. It is important to note that of that 1%, 70% of those outbreaks were linked to raw milk.

Pasteurization involves heating the liquid to a minimum temperature of 145 °F for at least 30 minutes. Other methods have developed to achieve this same result faster.

A modern procedure to do this is known as continuous flow pasteurization and involves heating at a High-Temperature, Short Time (HSTS) parameter. This method increases the temperature to 161 °F, but shortens the required time to just 15 seconds.

How Do I Know If I Have Tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis is sometimes difficult to diagnose and even more difficult to determine the source. Symptoms of tuberculosis infection can take weeks or even months to appear.

To complicate things further, some people may experience “latent tuberculosis,” where the bacteria become dormant. They do not become sick and are not infectious when the bacteria is dormant. However, if the bacteria begin to multiply months or even years later, they will become symptomatic and infectious with an active tuberculosis infection.

Tuberculosis Infection Symptoms

Symptoms can vary from person to person and even depending on which part of the body is infected. These symptoms are also similar to other types of illnesses, further complicating diagnosis.

Symptoms may include:

  • Chest pain
  • Weight loss
  • Abdominal infections
  • Weakness or tiredness
  • Chills, fever, and night sweats
  • Lumps in neck or joint swelling
  • A cough lasting more than 2 weeks
  • Coughing up blood or sputum (phlegm from deep inside the lungs)

Tuberculosis Infection Diagnosis

If your healthcare provider suspects you have tuberculosis infection, specialized tests are needed to confirm it. This could involve anything from a skin test that checks for antigens, analyzing sputum specimens for the presence of Tuberculosis bacteria under a microscope, and/or tissue biopsy.

Tuberculosis Infection Treatment

If you are diagnosed with tuberculosis infection, you will be prescribed an anti-tuberculosis medication. This treatment is not quick. You will likely be taking this medication for up to six months to ensure all Tuberculosis bacteria have been irradicated from your body.

Have You Become Infected with Tuberculosis Associated with Raw Milk?

Have you been involved in an outbreak linked to Tuberculosis in raw milk and unsure what to do? You may have a legal case.

The experienced Food Poisoning Lawyers at The Lange Law Firm, PLLC have helped people with cases just like yours. Holding those accountable for their part in foodborne illness is the only way to help keep the food system safe.

Reach out to The Lange Law Firm, PLLC by calling (833) 330-3663 or clicking here to email for a free consultation.

Stay in Touch with Make Food Safe!

If you’d like to know more about food safety topics in the news, like “Tuberculosis in Raw Milk is Yet Another Reason to Consider Pasteurization”, check out the Make Food Safe Blog. We regularly update trending topics, foodborne infections in the news, recalls, and more! Stay tuned for quality information to help keep your family safe, while The Lange Law Firm, PLLC strives to Make Food Safe!

By: Heather Van Tassell (contributing writer, non-lawyer)