Campylobacter can spread through unpasteurized milk.

Bacteria are found everywhere in the world, floating in the sky, stuck on the ground, and teeming all over the newspaper you are holding in your hands right now. Some bacteria are beneficial to humans by helping with important functions throughout the body. However, there are many others that can be detrimental to our health such as campylobacter and it is spreading like wildfire across many states including Pennsylvania. You probably have never heard of this sort of organism, but as microbiology professor Dr. David Glick says “everyone has probably had this infection at least one time in their life.”

The disease campylobacteriosis is caused by microscopic bacteria that are extremely prevalent in farm animals such as chickens and cows. Campylobacter mainly spreads through raw or undercooked meat and especially poultry, unpasteurized milk, cross-contamination, and even possibly from contaminated water.

Last year, Glick and his microbiology lab students tried to culture campylobacter through an experimental procedure, but no colonies were isolated.

Campylobacter is very fragile and the perfect temperature and environmental conditions are needed to culture it. This is the main reason why it is difficult to diagnose a patient who specifically has campylobacter. There are many other bacterial infections that cause the same symptoms as campylobacter including diarrhea, vomiting and nausea. Usually physicians will only get a culture when the symptoms are extremely severe or there seems to be an epidemic such as the one observed in the last month.

According to news reports, this infection has been linked to forty-three illnesses in Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and New Jersey. The main culprit is said to be the Edwin Shank’s Family Cow Farm in Pa. They sent out cases of raw, unpasteurized milk that contained the bacteria.

In a 2011 study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it was estimated that campylobacter caused over 800,000 illnesses, 8,400 hospitalizations and 76 deaths every year just in the United States where food regulation is extremely high compared to other countries.

The good news is that now many companies are taking the initiative to closely examine all the products that they send out to the general public to hopefully prevent another occurrence of campylobacter.

Edwin Shank, who owns the family cow farm of his name, has already started installing more innovative and efficient technology in his factory. The equipment will test vigorously for E.coli which is another bacterium that indicates that there may be other contaminants present. The farmers working for Shank are also taking careful measures not to cross-contaminate by not reusing plastic bags or egg cartons.

Now that this outbreak has been cleared and people are taking the necessary precautions go ahead and resume your late night snack of cookies and milk…it is well deserved!

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