Bovine Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis. Of the three types of tuberculosis: human, avian, and bovine, it is the only one known to pass between humans and other mammals. Bacteria are transmitted through respiratory secretions usually released into the environment when coughing, sneezing, sharing a common drinking source. Some research suggests that the bacteria can be passed by to other animals ingesting infected tissues of a diseased animal or by ingesting contaminated feed. Humans can be infected by drinking unpasteurized milk from an infected cow. The disease has been found in white tail deer, elk, black bear, bobcat, opossums, raccoons, foxes and coyotes.
TB can take months to develop and most often first presents as swollen lymph nodes. In deer, the lesions may be in the chest cavity and surface of the lungs where hunters may not notice them. Other symptoms include lethargy, emaciation, and intolerance for physical activity, coughing, and nasal discharge or difficulty breathing. Currently, there is no vaccine for prevention, and TB cannot be treated in deer. Humans infected with the disease can be treated with a success rate of >95%. Through combined efforts between the USDA and other state and federal agencies, the incidence of TB in our nation’s livestock is almost completely eradicated.