White tail deer tuberculosis
By USDA photo by Scott Bauer - Image Number: K5437-3.http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/graphics/photos/may01/k5437-3.htm, Public Domain, Link
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[ED: If you didn’t read our recent post about how game animals can carry disease and how to protect yourself, check it out here.]

The CDC discovered a case in Michigan in which a hunter contracted tuberculosis from infected deer.

By Eric Pickhartz

As deer hunting seasons begin across the U.S., a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that deer with tuberculosis can transmit the disease to humans.

As a result, the CDC is advising hunters to use “personal protective equipment while field-dressing deer” and that hunters in Michigan take extra precautions if they submit a deer for testing and it comes back TB-positive.

A recent study revealed the case of a 77-year-old Michigan man from the northeastern Lower Peninsula who was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis (TB) caused by mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis).

The CDC report states that the man was a consistent hunter for two decades, and had regularly harvested, field dressed, and consumed deer meat. It’s believed he inhaled the bacteria and it affected his respiratory system.

The region he hunted is included in the four-county section of the state with the majority of M. bovis-positive deer cases in Michigan. The subject had no history of travel to countries with history of tuberculosis or contact with people known to be TB-positive.

M. bovis is typically found in deer, cattle, bison, and elk and causes less than 2% of the total number of tuberculosis cases in the United States.

The CDC study mentioned two other TB cases believed to be hunting-related in Michigan, in 2002 and 2004. So far, Michigan and Minnesota are the only states to have found TB-positive wildlife populations.

Can humans get bovine tuberculosis from deer?

It would appear, at least in this case, the answer is yes. Nonetheless, using protective equipment like gloves, a face mask, and glasses should be a relatively simple addition to your field dressing and butchering technique, if it isn’t already.

Wild deer are susceptible to wildlife diseases, and news like this is likely to get some folks to take the threat more seriously.

FOX 17 in Nashville got the perspective of Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) Wildlife Veterinarian Dan Grove, who said “The advice is sound in general. If it looks like there is an abscess in a piece of meat then you want to avoid it. You always want to be cautious handling meat until you cook it and take basic precautions like wearing gloves. Sometimes everything looks good but you might get into dressing the animal and see something.”

What does tuberculosis in deer look like?

Usually, TB is evident in a deer’s lymph nodes, which show signs of infection like bloat and discoloration first. Know where to locate and inspect a lymph node on a deer, and you’re taking a significant step towards early detection and avoidance of possible transmission.

M. bovis is further recognized by notable lesions in the chest cavity or lungs. They often take the form of yellow lumps on the inside of the rib cage and on the lung tissue. For seasoned deer hunters familiar with normal healthy deer, they’re almost instantly recognizable as unusual.

But infectious disease may not always be easy to detect in free-ranging animals, especially if you’re less familiar with the specific deer herd, or the anatomy of certain cervids.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has more information on tuberculosis in deer on their website.

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  1. Wow. If I was a hunter in those affected areas, I’m not sure I would continue to hunt for food.
    First it was Chronic Wasting Disease. Now TB?

    Something is very wrong with the deer populations in those areas.

    I write this as I just watched 4 blackmail come into my backyard to feed on the cracked corn I have set out. Photo ops only. I’m not harvesting.

    • You bet there’s something wrong with the deer population. TB is very contagious. Just ask the border patrol guys. They’re getting it too…especially in southern California. Something’s wrong with that population down there, too. Hmmmmmmmmmm…..

      • Used to be a world class bighorn heard in the nearby mountains. But the lame ass sheep headers in the area grazed their range maggots all over tarnation. The bighorn heard had to be hunted to extinction because they caught TB or some other respiratory disease.

    • Tom,

      I believe Michigan’s deer herd was also fighting epizoatic hemorragic disease a few years ago as well. At least there are treatments for tuberculosis. There are no treatments for the prions that cause chronic wasting disease. (Although no one seems to be certain whether deer can transmit it to humans.)

      Personally, I observe deer before shooting them. If they look sickly or behave strangely, I pass on them. (I actually did pass on a doe one time whose ribs were showing in late September when she should have been fat!)

      • The states should allow hunters to kill obviously sick game and not have it count against the tag limit if one applies. Perhaps land managers can already do this in some states, I don’t know. Obviously you would need to be pretty sure about the game being sick and it would probably be a requirement to turn the carcass over to the state’s wildlife management agency. But of course who wants to ruin a day of hunting by dragging a sick deer that can’t be eaten out of the woods? It would be nice to remove those animals completely from the food chain though.

    • If the deer is slow enough for you to catch, you’d be wise to question whether you should eat it.

      Disease and overpopulation kind of go hand in hand.

  2. I got Tularemia from a cottontail I bagged outside of Bakersfield.
    Also had the BCG vaccine in the old country. So… not worried.
    You gotta go sometime…..

    • You got a Bolt Carrier Group vaccine?

      Might be better off not using abbreviations so the rest of us know what you are talking about

  3. Lower Peninsula? A pansy with a weak constitution, no doubt.

    I kid the LP folks. Shitty, best wishes for a speedy recovery.

  4. I had Lyme disease once. Extremely high fever. Strong antibiotics and I was deep sea fishing a week later. Finished the late primitive weapons season. Something is going to kill me. I think I’ll have fun until then.

  5. Wera long pants banded at the cuffs against Lime Disease and a quality face mask. And I’m not trying to be humorous. How about a balaclava with a built-in mask. Something of the quality a painter would use in a paint booth.

    • Sad are the days when a hazmat suite is required for hunting, I got one but i’m saving it for the zombies.

      • I draw the line at harvesting zombies for food, I would only get as close as scope range to dispatch them. If a tag is required, I’ll just move somewhere it isn’t.

    • Tim, I live in Florida so tick born diseases are a year round threat. Mosquitoes too. I contracted it while hunting in late December. Boots bloused, long sleeves, etc. There are hazards everywhere. Live accordingly.

  6. Could the cause be overpopulation?
    In the early 80’s in the southern Cascade’s in Or. Grey Squirrel were so common you had to be a blind man not to get your fill.
    Then in about 86 they almost disappeared. Gameyfish said a liver disease went through and thinned out the overpopulation.
    Overpopulation and close living conditions can and do bring out disease in humans, see the homeless in commiefornia.

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