Health alert for hunters about tuberculosis spread through deer

The Centers for Disease Control is issuing a reminder to hunters about tuberculosis spread through deer infected with M. bovis.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health said the problem has not yet been reported in Pennsylvania. But, the CDC issued the reminder after they said a case was first reported in 2017 when a 77-year-old man in Michigan contracted tuberculosis. They said, the man regularly hunted and field-dressed deer. Since then, more cases have been reported.

“A deer would have swollen lymph nodes. You might see those lymph nodes. You might see those lymph nodes break open. So, there would be sores on the skin. A badly infected deer is likely to be emaciated,” said Dr. John Goldman, an infectious disease specialist at UPMC Pinnacle. He added this advice for hunters, “wear gloves, possibly a mask. And, make sure you don’t accidentally infect yourself.”

The following information was released by the PA Department of Health:

The bacteria, Mycobacterium bovis (Bovine Tuberculosis) can cause tuberculosis in humans, although the majority of TB cases in humans are caused by another bacteria, Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

M. bovis is commonly found in cattle, deer, bison and elk. Only about 2 percent of the total cases of TB in humans in the U.S. come from M. bovis.

TB disease, no matter the bacterial source, affects the lungs, lymph nodes and other parts of the body. However, not everyone who gets infected will become sick. Those who are infected but do not get sick have what is called a latent TB infection. Some people with a latent TB infection may go on to get TB.

People are commonly infected with M. bois from eating or drinking contaminated, unpasteurized dairy products. The pasteurization process eliminates M. bovis from milk products.

Infection can also occur from direct contact with a wound, such as what might occur during the killing of animals or hunting, or by inhaling the bacteria in the air exhaled by animals infected with M. bovis.

THE CDC believes that in the cases saw in Michigan, individuals became infected with TB during hunting activities. This was most likely while field dressing the animal. While these cases were not in Pennsylvania, we do have Chronic Wasting Disease in Pa., a disease that can spread in deer if field dressing is not done safely and appropriately.

This warning from the CDC is another reminder for hunters to use personal protective equipment when field dressing their deer.

For more information, please see this fact sheet from the CDC on M. bovis, this study from the CDC on these cases, and the department’s website on TB.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.