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Paratuberculosis and Crohn's Disease: Got Milk?
by Michael Greger, MD
Updated January 2001

Johne's on the Rise

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Johne's disease is one of the most serious diseases affecting the cattle industry.[139] Although it is found in cattle populations throughout the world, the United States appears to have the worst paratuberculosis problem on the planet.[122] In 1997, the USDA released a long-awaited report of the national prevalence of Johne's disease. Surveying over 2500 dairy producers,[190] they showed that between 20 and 40% of US dairy herds were infected, a figure that they concede is probably an underestimate.[190] Since milk from an entire herd is likely to be pooled together in tankers for transport to processing plants, all the milk from 20 to 40% of US dairies is likely to be contaminated.[85]

Just as Crohn's disease is increasing in the human population -- it may be no coincidence that the United States also has the world's highest incidence of Crohn's ever recorded[116] -- Johne's disease is spreading among dairy cattle.[19] Johne's disease is spread primarily by the fecal-oral route. One can imagine how a cow with intractable diarrhea can thoroughly contaminate her surroundings[133] and just a few bits of swallowed manure can potentially infect a calf.[133] Overtly infected animals, losing up to 300 lb of body weight in one week[106] can shed as many as ten hundred trillion bugs a day.[30] One can also imagine what intensive modern farming practices have done for the disease.[85] Grazing bigger and bigger numbers of cattle on smaller and smaller plots of land is one of the reasons this dreaded disease is such a growing threat.[81] And every time animals are transported between farms, new herds may be infected. If no changes are made, the dairy herd infection rate is expected to reach 100%.[115]

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