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Docs Warn Against Raw Milk for Kids, Pregnant Women

Policy statement from pediatricians' group bolstered by Minnesota study on foodborne illness

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And those were just cases linked to the outbreaks. Health officials declare an outbreak when at least two people get sick from the same food. Outbreaks don't count so-called sporadic cases, when individuals experience food poisoning but it's not linked to any other cases.

Last week, researchers in Minnesota estimated the number of sporadic cases of food poisoning in their state linked to raw dairy products and found they probably dwarf those tied to outbreaks.

In a study published Dec. 11 in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, researchers found that, over a decade, 21 people got food poisoning in five outbreaks linked to raw dairy products.

But 530 additional individual cases were reported to the state, said study author Trisha Robinson, an epidemiologist with the Minnesota Department of Health. Those were cases of lab-confirmed food poisoning caused by Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, E. coli or Salmonella bacteria in which people had also reported consuming raw milk.

"There are a lot more people who are consuming raw milk who aren't part of an outbreak and they're getting sick too," Robinson said. "Outbreaks are really just the tip of the iceberg."

Given that many cases of foodborne illness are never caught or reported, Robinson estimated about 17 percent of people who drank raw milk over the 10 years of the study got sick from it.

The study found that 63 percent of those cases were in children younger than 10 years. An 11-month-old infant died from complications of an E. coli infection, while another child drinking raw milk was sickened by E. coli and then by salmonella a year later.

"Over three-quarters of children 5 years of age or younger were being served raw milk from their own farm or a relative's farm," Robinson said.

"Even at your own farm where you know the cows -- where people know the farm and maybe are taking really good care of those animals -- children can still get sick," she said.

Robinson said people should think long and hard before giving raw dairy products to their kids.

Glode agreed.

"There's no evidence to support that raw milk is healthier, and there's a lot of evidence to support that it's easy for it to become contaminated, with no one intending to do it," she said. "We need to protect young children as much as possible."

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