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Tainted Cheese in California

Tainted Cheese in California

First there was e. coli on the spinach, then yesterday we reported on salmonella-infected tomatoes. Today, there's news that a rare form of tuberculosis caused by illegal, unpasteurized dairy products is rising among Hispanic immigrants in Southern California and increasing concerns about a reappearance of a strain that was all but destroyed in the U.S.

A study from the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases shows that cases of the Mycobacterium bovis strain of TB have escalated in San Diego county, specifically among children who drink or eat dairy foods that were made from the milk of infected cattle. This means certain cheese from street vendors, cheese smuggled across the Mexican border or produced by families who sell so-called “bathtub cheese” made in home tubs and backyard troughs could contain the disease.

Even more frightening is that scientists say this strain is resistant to front-line drug therapy and adults who contract it are more than twice as likely as those with traditional TB to die before treatment is finished.

This is not the first time such an outbreak has occurred. In 2005, New York City’s health department released a report stating that between 2001 and 2004 at least 35 people had contracted tuberculosis from contaminated cheese or raw milk.

Unlike standard TB that is caused by the M. tuberculosis strain, this one is not easily spread via human-to-human contact. Doctors warn people to be more diligent about keeping an eye on the dairy products they are consuming versus the people with whom they come in contact. In the meantime, agriculture officials are investigating illegally produced cheese, including more than 375 pounds of “bathtub cheese” that was seized from an open-air market in San Bernardino last year.

Though this story is quite localized to California, does it make you nervous about the food you eat? Do you try to avoid buying certain foods in case they might be contaminated? [MSNBC]

Posted: 6/4/08