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Milk and the emergence of group B streptococcal disease in humans

Presented at the Neonatal Society 2011 Spring Meeting (programme).

Ismail AQ1, Yeates DGR3, Goldacre M3, Anthony M2

1 The Medical School, University of Oxford, UK
2 Department of Paediatrics, John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, UK
3 Unit of Health-Care Epidemiology, Department of Public Health3, University of Oxford, UK

Background: Our aim was to define the relationship between the emergence of Group B streptococcus (GBS) in man and a significant change in UK milk collection practice that both occurred in the 1960-70s.

Methods: We compared PubMed reports of GBS disease from 1930, and UK and Oxford hospital admission data for neonatal infections; with the timing of the change in farming practice that occurred with centralization of milk processing; collection of milk by ‘churn’ to collection by ‘bulk tank’.

Results: Between 1960 and 1979 all farms in the UK switched to bulk tank collection which coincided with increasing PubMed reports of neonatal GBS disease.

Conclusion: The temporal relationship between emergence of neonatal GBS disease and the switch from churns to bulk tank milk collection adds weight to the hypothesis that human GBS infection arose from a bovine ancestor through milk consumption. This centralization of milk collection may have been a population biology opportunity for bovine GBS strains with a propensity to cause human disease to reach more people.

Corresponding author:

Parker MT: Neonatal streptococcal infections. Postgrad Med J 1977, 53(624):598-606.

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