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A particularly virulent form of the bacteria Salmonella is Salmonella dublin (S dublin). As with most Salmonella infections, people with suppressed immune systems are most at risk (for example, AIDS patients or people taking corticosteroids or chemotherapy). A report in the Western Journal of Medicine in May, 1983 was titled “Invasive Salmonella dublin Infections Associated with Drinking Raw Milk.”1 The author conducted a year-long study in 1980 and 1981 at the Veterans Administration Medical Center (VAMC) in San Diego. During that year, 14 cases of Salmonella infection had been diagnosed at the VAMC; five of them were S. dublin infections. The ages of these five individuals ranged from 56 to 97, and all but one had a serious preexisting chronic disease or were taking immunosuppressive corticosteroid or chemotherapy drugs. Three of them had drunk raw milk from Alta Dena dairy several times within the previous two weeks. This does not prove that the raw milk was the source of the infection, but it is a strong association.
One case was an 85-year-old woman with chronic leukemia diagnosed in 1979. To quote from the article, “In September, 1981 she was treated for the first time with cyclophosphamide [a highly toxic chemotherapy agent that impairs natural immunity to infection] and prednisone three times a day. A week later diarrhea, fever and chills developed and she had a syncopal episode [temporary loss of consciousness due to a fall in blood pressure]. . . . blood, urine, and stool cultures all grew S. dublin.…she died on the 17th hospital day. . . . This woman’s immune status was compromised by both the leukemia and the therapy. She presented in shock with an overwhelming Salmonella bacteremia [bacteria in the blood].”
Three of the other four patients with S. dublin infections were sick enough to require antibiotic therapy and admission to the hospital; one was hospitalized for several weeks.
This brief story presents a microcosm of the gulf between practitioners of conventional modern medicine and those who advocate a holistic approach, and the patients who are so often caught in between. The three people who drank the raw milk sought to help themselves to better health. The physicians involved in their conventional treatment and their colleagues blame the milk for the subsequent illnesses and the one death. But advocates for raw milk, including myself, would argue that were it not for the immunosuppressive drugs, none of the individuals would have become infected with Salmonella. How long had the 85-year-old woman been drinking raw milk with impunity before her first week of chemotherapy, at the end of which she became deathly ill? The article does not answer this question. About the many benefits of raw milk, the author says only, “I will not comment on the validity of the nutritional claims that are made for raw milk.”
In assessing relative risks, we also should keep in mind that in 1985, Salmonella infections traced to pasteurized milk affected an estimated 175,000 people, with over 16,000 culture-confirmed cases, in a multi-state epidemic (as reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, December 11, 1987, among other places).
Advocates for raw milk must concede that S dublin is occasionally found in raw milk, and that in all likelihood this occasionally results in acute illness, particularly for people under treatment with immunosuppressive drugs. The milk in question in these cases was from a dairy in southern California that did not grass-feed the cows. The amount of grass in the diet is known to be a critical factor in the health of the cows and the quality of the milk produced. I believe that when cows are strictly or mostly grass-fed, there is little risk of Salmonella or any other infectious problem from the milk, even for individuals who are immunosuppressed. We know that Dr. Crewe at the Mayo Foundation used raw milk in the treatment of a wide variety of serious chronic diseases, and that he reported no problems such as reported above.2 However, the medical profession was not at that time busy treating millions of people with immunosuppressive drugs. As a safeguard, I believe that individuals with compromised immunity should seek only the best raw milk, and that means raw milk from strictly grass-fed animals.
- Joshua Fierer, MD. Invasive Salmonella dublin Infections Associated with Drinking Raw Milk. Western Journal of Medicine, May 1983.
- Dr. Crewe’s article was reprinted in Wise Traditions, Summer 2002, 3(2):58-61.
This article appeared in the Fall 2002 edition of Wise Traditions, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation.
Ron Schmid, ND, naturopathic physician, writer, teacher, and farmer, has prescribed raw milk for his patients for nearly 25 years. Dr. Schmid is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the National College of Naturopathic Medicine and has taught at all four of America’s naturopathic medical schools. He served as the former clinic director and chief medical officer at the University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine. He is the author of Traditional Foods Are Your Best Medicine and The Untold Story of Milk.