Four children remain in serious condition with E. coli infections at East Tennessee Children's Hospital, and now a fifth child has been admitted and all cases are believed to be linked to drinking raw milk.
According to the East Tennessee Children's Hospital, the fifth child is in fair condition after being admitted Wednesday.
To date, more than 10 cases of E. coli 0157 have been reported to KCHD, all are among children. The hospital says most of the children they have treated are under the age of four.
In addition to exposure to raw milk, health officials are also investigating whether kids exposed to farm animals at a local child care facility could be another link. State officials ordered Kids Place Inc. Millertown Child Care Center shut down on Tuesday, but all but the impacted area has been operating since then. State officials went to the facility on Thursday to make sure they closed the entire facility until the investigation was complete.
According to their website, Kids Place offers daycare, after-school care, and summer camp programs.
The health department said it is investigating whether these two sources could be linked.
"The bottom line is that there are no valid nutritional benefits of consuming raw milk over pasteurized milk when considering the risks involved, and especially if you're thinking about giving it to children," Khrysta Baig, the president of the Knoxville Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Baig said people sometimes confuse raw milk with being healthier than pasteurized milk.
"One of those myths is that there are more nutrients in raw milk that is not treated with heat," Baig said.
Baig added other myths include that raw milk helps prevent allergies or has probiotics, but she said that's not really the case.
"The risk of milk-borne disease from consuming raw milk is real and there is never a time when you want to expose a child to that risk," Baig said.
University of Tennessee farm animal veterinarian Dr. Andrea Lear said animals get sick too and that's also how humans can get bacteria.
"So the perceived benefits of drinking raw milk are far outweighed by the absolute risk of consuming that product," Lear said.
Lear said this doesn't mean you can't have your own cows or goats and drink their milk, you just should pasteurize it.
"All that is fine, it's just important to know that you can be locally and regionally sourced and still be hygienic and still be safe," Lear said.