Bovine Tuberculosis in Deer – What You Need to know

A Facebook post talking about Bovine Tuberculosis in deer vent viral. The gist of the post said that the disease was dangerous and is something hunters need to watch out for. Like most hunters I do not know much about the disease, so I looked into it and here is what I discovered.

Purdue University did a huge study on the disease and how it effects whitetail deer, and is the main source for my findings.

What is Bovine Tuberculosis?

Bovine tuberculosis (bovine Tb) is a disease found in mammals caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis). It is most commonly found in domestic cattle and captive and wild cervids (white-tailed deer, elk, etc.) and less commonly in other mammals such as raccoon, opossums, coyotes, and wild boars.

The disease usually affects the lungs but can affect other parts of the body. You can recognize the disease by the  white, tan, or yellow lesions on the lungs, rib cage, or in the chest cavity. However, in Michigan only 64% of deer exhibited lesions and only 42% would have been recognizable to hunters

Can it be spread to humans?

Yes, but it is very rare. I could only find one case of a hunter contracting the disease from a wild deer. In that case, it was thought to be transmitted via bodily fluids from the infected deer contacting an open wound on the person during the field dressing process. Most cases of Bovine Tuberculosis in humans are caused by consuming unpasteurized dairy products and the likelihood of contracting bovine Tb from a wild deer is minuscule.

Were is the disease prevalent?

As of right now Bovine Tuberculosis has been found in deer in only a few states. Indiana, Michigan and Minnesota have had outbreaks in wild white-tailed deer. Currently, it occurs in less than 2% of deer in the Bovine Tb Management Zone in Michigan and has not been detected since 2009 in a wild deer in Minnesota.  The first case of bovine Tuberculosis in a wild white-tailed deer in Indiana occurred in August 2016 in Franklin County.

What Should I do If I kill a deer with the disease?

If you kill a deer and you suspect it might be infected report it to your local wildlife office. In states where it is prevalent there are programs set up to take samples. The procedures can be found on their websites.

Can I still eat the meat?

Yes, According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources,

“Venison from deer harvested within the Bovine Tb Management and Surveillance Zone should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill M. bovis and other bacteria. Bovine Tb is rarely present on muscle tissue (meat) and the most likely way bovine Tb would be on meat would be through contamination from secretions within the body cavity.

I do not know If I would take my chances, it is your call. But it does seem that gutting the animal is the most dangerous part.

Conclusion

Overall, it does not seem to be a huge issue for hunters outside of the management areas. The disease is rare, but you should wear gloves while field dressing your deer and keep an eye out for things that do not look normal. If you do happen to nick yourself keep an eye on the affected area and go to the doctor if the cut gets worse. Better to be safe the sorry.