Kentucky health officials believe they have determined what caused an outbreak of bacterial infection that sent several children to the hospital last month.     

“What we have been able to find out during the course of the investigation involving an E. coli outbreak in North Central Kentucky—which involved five children—was that raw, unpasteurized milk was the only common food source consumed by all the children affected by the outbreak,” said Beth Fisher, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Public Health. 

Fisher says the consumption of raw milk that has not been pasteurized–heated to destroy harmful pathogens–is risky and potentially deadly, especially for children.   She says the E. coli bacteria can cause severe gastrointestinal illness.

“One can develop a condition known as Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, HUS, which actually was the case with four of the five children involved with this current E. coli outbreak.    It’s a very serious condition that can lead to kidney failure and in a small number of cases, death,” she said.

The sale of raw milk is illegal in Kentucky, but its proponents believe it offers more health benefits than milk that has been pasteurized.   Some buyers skirt the law by instead purchasing shares in a dairy cow.

In Indiana, raw milk can only be sold if it’s labeled as pet food.

Fisher says all five children are recovering from their illness, but one is still hospitalized.

Rick Howlett is host of WFPL's weekly talk show, "In Conversation."