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After outbreak, dairy owner plans to continue production

Health department: common bovine bacteria linked to raw milk farm

Posted: March 26, 2013 - 9:15pm  |  Updated: March 27, 2013 - 2:54pm
Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion Kevin Byers, owner of Peninsula Dairy, puts a glass jar of fresh milk into a holding container Wednesday Jan. 15, 2013 in Kasilof, Alaska.  The state's health department named Peninsula Dairy as the source of a campylobacter outbreak.
Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion Kevin Byers, owner of Peninsula Dairy, puts a glass jar of fresh milk into a holding container Wednesday Jan. 15, 2013 in Kasilof, Alaska. The state's health department named Peninsula Dairy as the source of a campylobacter outbreak.

Although the state health department has tied more than 30 cases of an infection to a Kasilof-based dairy farm, the farm’s owner is not deterred.

“I ain’t going down without a fight ‘cause this is what I like to do and know to do,” said Kevin Byers, the farm’s owner. “I was born and raised on this.”

Byers owns Peninsula Dairy, a raw milk cow-share operation that distributes to Kenai, Soldotna, Homer, Seward, Anchorage and Sitka.

In mid-February, Kenai Peninsula residents began developing symptoms similar to a campylobacter infection — diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pains and fever, according the health department. The illness can lead to death in young children or those with compromised immune systems.

As of March 22, there have been 34 cases of illnesses, and in all the cases, the individuals have had associations with Peninsula Dairy, said Brian Yablon, an epidemiologist for the Alaska Section of Epidemiology. Seven of the 34 cases have been confirmed in a lab as campylobacter infection, he said. No one has died from the infection, he said.

The Campylobacter infection is a common problem on farms, said Bob Gerlach, state veterinarian.

More than 90 percent of dairy farms in the Lower 48 owned cows that tested positive for the campylobacter bacteria, according to a National Animal Health Monitoring System study from the United States Department of Agriculture.

Gerlach said farm vegetables contaminated with feces of an infected animal can also carry the bacteria.

“It’s in most of your farms,” Byers said. “Dogs. Cats. Birds. It can come on your vegetables outside by the birds crapping on them.”

Raw milk dairy farms are, however, at a greater risk for spreading the campylobacter as their milk is not heated to kill the bacteria, according to the health department.

After the state health department linked the outbreak to Byers’ farm, it collected fecal and milk samples from his cows. Lab results found three strains of campylobacter from samples collected at his farm, but none matched the confirmed strains that made people sick, Gerlach said.

“It’s not unusual that you may find one strain of campylobacter there and it may get replaced by another strain that (the cows) pick up in the environment,” he said.

In cold climates different strains of the bacteria can cycle through a farm quickly as they die out, he said. That could have been what happened on Byers’ farm, Gerlach said.

While it is illegal to sell raw milk, selling shares of a cow that produces the milk — Byers’ method — is legal, and the health department cannot shut him down.

Following the initial signs of the outbreak, the health department contacted Byers’ shareholders to warm them of the risk associated with consuming raw milk, Yablon said.

“We tried to call everybody that we could find a number for,” he said.

About a fourth of the shareholders called said they stopped drinking the milk because of the infection. Others said they still buy the milk but pasteurize it at home, “and other people have decided to keep doing exactly what they’ve been doing,” Yablon said.

Byers said he was initially worried for his business. He said the health department was using “scare tactics” to erode his customer base.

“But their scare isn’t going too far,” he said.

His customers started calling to tell him “We’re hanging in with you,” he said.

“It’s just a little bump in the trail and we’re going to keep on going,” he said.

 

Dan Schwartz can be reached at daniel.schwartz@peninsulaclarion.com.

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rbaize77
4
Points
rbaize77 03/27/13 - 06:20 pm
2
0

After outbreak, dairy owner plans to continue production

I am really upset about the way this article is written. The headline seems to imply that the dairy owner doesn't care that people are sick.

I read the printed version of this article earlier today. In the printed version the headline was on the front page, but way back on page 14, I find that the State Health Inspector actually conducted tests and did NOT find that strain in the tests. To me this makes the whole rest of the article a lot of guesswork. This is a small community, of course there were connections made to all the people that got sick, I have only lived here for 3 years and I probably have "connections" with the people that got sick. Don't try to make it sound like people here don't know their neighbors, this is not Anchorage.

We pastuerize milk in this country because ALL dairy farms have bacteria of one strain or another, cows are not neat and clean animals. Anyone that drinks raw milk should know the dangers and do like some people did and pastuerize the milk when they get it home. Only they know if they have someone in their household that may have problems with the bacteria.

We should be encouraging the farmers on the Kenai Peninsula not drive off the few we have.

Norseman
2495
Points
Norseman 03/27/13 - 07:22 pm
2
1

but none matched the confirmed strains that made people sick,

but none matched the confirmed strains that made people sick, Gerlach said
.....
diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pains and fever
......
Every body I talked to during that month knew someone who had those symptoms, it is called the FLU......

He sells shares in his cows to people who wish to purchase them. That agreement is between those two parties and the government needs to go worry about someone else.

radiokenai
556
Points
radiokenai 03/28/13 - 07:06 am
0
0

WOW! NORSEMAN! WHAT IS THE DEAL?

Unpublished

A screaming balling liberal, actually typing the sentence stating "...the Government needs to go worry about something else"!

NOW your getting it! Slowly but surely!

You know, that is a CONSERVATIVE way of thinking?

Atta-boy...keep up the good work Norseman!

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