(Missoula Current) Following potential exposure to bacteria from unpasteurized milk sold at a farmers market in Missoula County, the Missoula City-County Health Department is warning residents to be cautious when consuming raw milk.

The department on Friday said milk recently sold at the farmers market came from a herd where two cows tested positive for Coxiella burnetii – the bacteria that causes Q fever. While one of the cows had not yet produced milk, the other produced about 10% of the farmer’s yield.

“We don’t know if the cow was shedding the bacteria at the time it was milked, or if that cow’s milk was sold at the farmers market,” said Shannon Therrialt, director of environmental health. “We can’t say for sure whether anyone was exposed. However, what we do know is that unpasteurized milk can contain harmful bacteria that can make you and your loved ones sick.”

Unpasteurized milk products have been linked to outbreaks of E. coli and salmonella, among other illnesses. Q fever symptoms can take two or three weeks to present following exposure.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms of Q fever include fever, chills, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, chest pain, stomach pain, weight loss and a non-productive cough.

“While drinking ‘raw’ milk has become more widespread in recent years, we want people to know that it can easily be contaminated with harmful bacteria, even when the milking operation is well-run,” Therriault said.

In the 1980s, Missoula experienced a large salmonella outbreak caused by unpasteurized milk from a local dairy. More than 100 cases were linked to the outbreak, and half of those cases were children 14 and younger. The strain of salmonella was multi-drug resistant, and 15% of those who got sick were hospitalized.

In 2021, the legislature allowed unpasteurized milk in Montana under limited conditions. Raw milk can be sold at a farm, farmers market and other traditional community events, as long as the herd is five lactating cows or fewer, and the seller informs the consumer that the product is not licensed, certified, packaged, labeled or inspected under any official regulations.