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Dairy products, raw meat carry TB risk

Katharine Child | 2015-12-07 00:01:43.0

Image by: wikimedia commons

Eating carpaccio or cheese made with unpasteurised milk carries the risk of contracting a dangerous strain of tuberculosis.

TB not only kills 1.5 million people a year, and infects half-a-million South Africans annually, it also infects cattle, who can spread it to humans.

People who contract bovine TB were 2.6 times more likely to die from it than those with the common strain of TB that affects humans, said Professor Paul van Helden, head of the department of biomedical sciences at Stellenbosch University.

The bovine strain can be contracted through animal contact or by drinking fresh unpasteurised milk, or eating raw meat.

There are at least 121,000 cases globally of zoonotic [cross- species] TB every year, according to the World Health Organisation.

"If we think it happens only in poor, rural pastoral communities, [we are wrong].

"There were outbreaks in New York City in 2001 and 2004. People caught it in New York after eating soft cheeses from Mexico made from unpasteurised milk that had been illegally imported.

"It can happen to you anywhere," said Van Helden at the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease's World Conference on Lung Health in Cape Town at the weekend.

He said many doctors believed that most forms of zoonotic TB could be cured by medicines used against human TB and therefore the source of the infection was irrelevant.

But this is not true, according to Van Helden.

"One of the four medicines in the drug cocktail used to treat human TB did not work on zoonotic TB and led to a greater chance of death."

He said that humans with zoonotic TB could need nine months of treatment instead of the standard six.

America is the only country in which all lab tests conducted for TB, differentiate between Human TB and Zoonotic TB, said Dr. Francisco Olea-Popelka, Assistant Professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University. He said this resulted in the zoonotic cases detected as being only tip of the iceberg.

He said  countries across the world needed to start testing if a person had contracted the human strain of Tb or zoonotic TB.

Zoonotic TB can resist one of the four medicines used for ordinary human TB. The bacteria can develop drug resistance to all TB drugs, and then spread to others.

Experts at the conference called for more research into zoonotic TB and a greater emphasis on it.

The Stop TB partnership, a global group to end the disease, of which Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi is involved, aims that it aims to  end TB by 2030. "This cannot happen until we stop ignoring animal TB," warned Van Helden.

Animals will remain a source of infection of TB even if the disease is reduced in humans.

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