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


In England, researchers took milk off grocery shelves and tested it for the presence of paratuberculosis bacteria using DNA probes. Depending on the time of the year, up to 25% of milk cartons contained paratuberculosis DNA.[104] Interestingly, the seasonal variation coincided with the periods when Crohn's patients tend to suffer relapses.[61] The researchers tried to culture live paraTB bugs from the milk, but were largely unsuccessful, because cows' milk is such a stew of microbes that fungal overgrowth and faster multiplying bacteria took over the samples.[159] The question then remained, did the positive DNA samples in up to a quarter of the milk supply indicate live or dead paratuberculosis bacteria? Can paraTB survive pasteurization?

Historically, pasteurization had been established in order to kill paraTB's cousin, bovine tuberculosis.[179] TB was thought to be one of the most heat-resistant human pathogens, so the temperature was set at approximately 62 C (144 F) for a half an hour.[179] Later, the disease Q fever (caused by Coxiella burnetii) was discovered, so the temperature was increased to 63 C.180 Now the HTST method, which stands for High Temperature, Short Time, is predominantly used -- 72 C (162 F), but only for 15 seconds.[93] While 72 C kills most bacteria, paratuberculosis has been shown to survive 15 seconds at 90 C (194 F).[58] By hiding in milk in fat droplets, pus cells, and fecal clumps,[189] paraTB might be able to survive at even higher temperatures.[59] Second only to prions[137] (which cause mad cow disease), paratuberculosis is considered the most heat-resistant pathogen in the human food supply.[115]

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