Public health officials have identified the sources behind several cases of E. coli in the region.
The health departments of Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon counties issued a joint announcement this morning stating that two cases of E. coli 0157 have been “traced back to consumption of raw milk products from an Ottawa County cow share program.”
The counties said that in March, a 31-year-old Muskegon County woman became ill after drinking raw milk, and in April, a 6-year-old from Kent County became ill after possible consumption of the raw milk product.
However, a spokesperson for the Kent County Health Department said the suspected raw milk involved had not actually been tested.
“That’s why we’re saying in that news release, ‘after possible consumption of the raw milk product,’” said Lisa LaPlante.
“We believe these (two cases) to be tied together,” she said, because both individuals had consumed raw milk product from one particular “cow share” farm.
In a cow share arrangement, consumers buy a supposed “share” of an unspecified cow, which entitles them to pick up a certain amount of raw milk from that particular dairy herd each week. The milk is deliberately not pasteurized, because some people believe there are health advantages to unpasteurized milk.
Pasteurizing is the process of heating milk to high temperatures to kill bacteria. The joint announcement from the counties states that raw or unpasteurized milk, sometimes called fresh milk or fresh unprocessed milk, “carries a much higher risk of causing serious illness than pasteurized milk.”
However, dairy farms that offer cow shares for unpasteurized milk and the Michigan Fresh Milk Council dispute that claim.
In a separate matter involving E. coli, on Wednesday, the Michigan Department of Community Health and the Michigan Agriculture and Rural Development, along with local health departments in Kent, Livingston, Oakland, Ottawa and Washtenaw counties, announced they are investigating a cluster of recent illnesses due to the bacteria E. coli 0157. It is an intestinal bacteria usually dispersed via fecal matter.
LaPlante said that situation involved one Kent County resident who was diagnosed with illness due to E. coli, who has since recovered. She said it is believed he consumed tainted hamburger at a restaurant.
“It is our understanding that the product was undercooked — that it was ordered that way,” LaPlante said.
She said the public should be advised to “educate yourselves about the products you are eating.” When ordering a meal involving hamburger, she said, it must be cooked well done, “otherwise it is not killing off the bacteria” that might be present.