Record number of patients infected with Brucella in Texas after eating unpasteurized cheese from Mexico

By Mary Ellen Shoup contact

- Last updated on GMT

The Dallas County Department of Health and Human Services has confirmed a record number of brucellosis cases, the highest since 2004.
The Dallas County Department of Health and Human Services has confirmed a record number of brucellosis cases, the highest since 2004.

Related tags: Pasteurization, Milk

The Dallas County Department of Health and Human Services issued a health advisory following 13 confirmed cases of brucellosis, affecting patients between the ages of six and 80.

Each case stems from consuming unpasteurized cheese brought into the US from Mexico by friends or relatives, during travel in Mexico, or from local street vendor in the Dallas area.

Only two to four cases are typically reported annually in Texas, with 11 cases recorded in 2004.

Brucella ​bacteria are slow-growing gram-negative coccobacilli that can infect livestock (e.g. cows, goats, sheep), but can also infect humans either through direct contact or ingestion of unpasteurized dairy products. The most common mode of transmission to humans is by consumption of unpasteurized dairy products originating from regions where brucellosis is endemic, such as Mexico, Central America and South America.

The incubation period for those infected with Brucella is two to three weeks, then the most common symptoms to occur are nonspecific but includes fever, chills, fatigue, loss of appetite, and night sweats. Brucella patients must be treated with antibiotics for several weeks, and sometimes months, after falling ill.

Serious complications include osteomyelitis, meningitis, and endocarditis. The fatality rate for untreated brucellosis is 5%.

Dangerous and illegal

In 1987, the FDA mandated the pasteurization of all dairy products produced for human consumption, effectively banning the shipment of raw milk in interstate commerce. The only exception is cheese made from raw milk that has been aged a minimum of 60 days and is visibly labeled as unpasteurized.  

The consumption of unpasteurized products is prevalent where regulations on the sale of raw milk products aren’t as stringent as in the US. Advocates for dairy products containing raw milk say that the unpasteurized version is healthier and tastes better. However, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) along with the FDA believe that unpasteurized products such as cheese made from raw milk pose serious health risks to consumers.

According to an analysis by the CDC, between 1993 and 2006 more than 1,500 people in the US became sick from drinking raw milk or eating cheese made from raw milk.

In addition, the CDC reported that unpasteurized milk is 150 times more likely to cause foodborne illness and results in 13 times more hospitalizations than illnesses involving pasteurized dairy products.

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