Majestic, graceful, even an important source of meat for some, deer can harbor numerous deadly diseases, some of which are easily transmitted to humans and livestock. Moreover, everyone who hunts or lives near wild deer, elk or moose should be aware of one such disease: bovine tuberculosis.
About 230 people in the US contract bovine tuberculosis each year, comprising about 2% of all tuberculosis cases. Those who consume unpasteurized dairy products or butcher infected game are at greatest risk. Livestock exposed to infected deer, elk or moose or that inadvertently share pastures or feed are also at risk. Symptoms often don’t show until the disease progresses, but can include fever, fatigue, weight loss, pneumonia, night sweats, and chills. Antibiotic treatment can last between 6 and 12 months. Bovine tuberculosis is resistant to a common TB antibiotic, so the strain must be determined before the choice in treatment is made. Let's look at the latest information.
It can infect any mammal, including cattle, humans and house pets, but bovine tuberculosis is found mainly in deer and related animals. It’s caused by Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis), and it infects about 230 people in the U.S. each year, comprising about 2% of all tuberculosis cases.
Deer spread the disease through their saliva and other fluids, and domestic animals can become infected via sneezed airborne particles or shared feed or water. There are two ways humans can catch it: by consuming unpasteurized dairy products derived from infected animals or absorbing the bacteria through cuts in the skin while slaughtering or dressing an infected animal.
Bovine tuberculosis looks a lot like Mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB), but the symptoms might not be identical. According to TBFacts.org, the latter is more likely to cause gastrointestinal disease in children and swollen or ulcerated lymph nodes in adults. TB symptoms often don’t show until the disease has progressed, when fever, fatigue, weight loss, and pneumonia take hold.
The CDC adds that the cough can be severe, causing chest pain and sometimes producing bloody sputum. Sufferers may also experience night sweats and chills. Bovine tuberculosis is resistant to pyrazinamide, one of the antibiotics usually included in human tuberculosis treatment cocktails, so a combination of other antibiotics must be used against it. Eradicating the disease can take 6 to 12 months, and if the wrong strain of tuberculosis is diagnosed, then the treatment might not be effective.
Protect yourself by consuming pasteurized dairy products and limiting exposure when handling or butchering wild game. See a doctor immediately if you notice any symptoms. Once infected, you can pass the disease to other people when you cough or sneeze, so take care to quarantine any infected people in a household.
Bovine tuberculosis may not be common, but for those of us who are hunters, this is knowledge we should have. Knowledge is power. Be aware of the risks and avoid any unnecessary contact with wild deer and related animals. A small amount of prevention now could spare you up to a year of antibiotic treatment down the line.