MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Illnesses in seven more people have been tied by to the consumption of raw milk from a farm in Sibley County that was implicated in an E. coli outbreak earlier this year, the Minnesota Department of Health reported Thursday.
Three people were infected with a bacterium called campylobacter jejuni and the other four with a parasite, cryptosporidium parvum, after drinking raw milk. All seven reported drinking raw milk, and those who named a source said it was the Hartmann Dairy Farm, the department said.
Laboratory tests determined the bacterium and parasite in most of the ill people were genetically identical to samples taken from the farm this summer. Both result in similar symptoms, including fever, diarrhea and vomiting. Cryptosporidium can be life threatening for people with weak immune systems.
"We know all these things are carried by cattle and transmitted by raw milk. It's not unexpected," said Kirk Smith, a foodborne diseases expert with the health department. "Whatever is in cow poop is going to wind up in raw milk. It is impossible to produce raw milk without those kinds of things happening."
A telephone listing for Michael Hartmann, the farm owner, ran unanswered Thursday, and a man who has served as Hartmann's spokesman in the past did not return telephone or e-mail messages. Hartmann has said that his farm is no less sanitary than other dairy farms.
Smith said the seven people were sickened from late July to late August. He said the lag between the illnesses and the department's report Thursday was due to the time needed for the investigation and laboratory tests.
The department said it has identified 47 other people who became ill since Jan. 1, 2010, after drinking raw milk from a variety of other sources throughout the state. Most of those cases have been young adults or children.
Hartmann's farm was implicated as the source of an outbreak of eight confirmed E. coli infections in May and June. In response, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture ordered Hartmann to stop selling all milk until he remedied the unsanitary conditions on the farm.
Nichole Neeser, who leads the dairy inspection program for the state Agriculture Department, said the restriction remained in effect Thursday. Because of an ongoing investigation of the farm, she said she couldn't comment further.
Also this summer, the department prohibited the sale of specific lots of meat, cheese and other dairy products from the farm. Hartmann fought the embargo in Sibley County court. Neeser said arguments finished in late September and the judge hasn't yet ruled.
Federal and state regulators have said raw milk carries a risk of disease because it hasn't been through the germ-destroying pasteurization process. However, interest in raw milk has been growing among those who think pasteurization reduces milk's nutritional value.
Nine U.S. states allow retail sales of raw milk, while another 19 — including Minnesota — allow only direct sales from farmers to consumers.