Crohn's disease and Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis: current issues

J Food Prot. 2001 Dec;64(12):2103-10. doi: 10.4315/0362-028x-64.12.2103.


Crohn's disease is a chronic debilitating inflammatory bowel disease of unknown etiology. Proposed causes include bacterial or viral infection, diet or exposure to tobacco smoke, genetic abnormality, and immune dysfunction. The bacterium Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis (Map) has received much research attention as a potential cause of the disease. Map causes Johne's disease in ruminants. The pathology of Johne's disease superficially resembles that of Crohn's disease in humans. Some researchers have shown evidence of Map in intestinal tissues of Crohn's disease patients. Studies are in progress to investigate the possibility that Map exists in milk from infected cows and survives pasteurization. This is a controversial subject with the potential for media attention and public outcry. We examined the current literature and concluded that insufficient evidence exists at this time to implicate any one factor, including Map in milk, as the definitive cause of Crohn's disease. The high degree of uncertainty in this issue requires regulators to recognize the need for effective risk communication as ongoing research provides additional information about the disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Cattle Diseases / microbiology
  • Cattle Diseases / transmission*
  • Crohn Disease / etiology*
  • Crohn Disease / microbiology
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious
  • Food Contamination
  • Humans
  • Milk / microbiology*
  • Mycobacterium avium / isolation & purification
  • Mycobacterium avium / pathogenicity*
  • Tuberculosis / transmission
  • Tuberculosis / veterinary*
  • Zoonoses