Bovine tuberculosis (TB) can be found in white-tailed deer. The disease can have widespread consequences because it jeopardizes domestic animals, wildlife populations and humans. Bovine tuberculosis is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium bovis. The bacteria usually attack the lungs in mammals, but TB bacteria can attack any part of the body such as the kidney, spine, and brain.
Bovine tuberculosis is a chronic bacterial disease of cattle that occasionally affects other mammals, such as deer. The disease is a significant zoonosis that can spread to humans, typically by the inhalation of aerosols or the ingestion of unpasteurized milk. Eradication programs have reduced or eliminated tuberculosis in cattle in developed countries and human disease is low.
Livestock are fairly easy to control, but wildlife populations are challenging from a disease management perspective. TB reservoirs in wildlife can make complete eradication of the disease impossible. Bovine tuberculosis is still common in less developed countries and severe economic losses can occur from livestock deaths. In some situations, this disease may also be a serious threat to endangered wildlife species.
States Test Deer for TB
Wildlife officials in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio recently launched a joint monitoring effort for TB after an infected deer was discovered in southeastern Indiana. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources will operate a check station in Boone County during the first two weekends of modern gun season for deer, Nov. 12-13 and Nov. 19-20, as part of that monitoring. TB has not been documented in the Kentucky deer herd.
The department also will operate check stations in Bath, Nicholas and Fleming counties on those same weekends in a monitoring follow-up after the discovery of an infected cow in that area in 2010. Hunters will be asked to bring their deer by the check station so biologists can take tissue samples for testing.
Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Veterinarian Iga Stasiak said the state agencies intend to stop the disease from spreading further, which would impact livestock and wildlife populations. “These efforts will help us determine whether or not bovine TB is present in our deer herd,” she said. “Participation in this survey effort may help ensure the long-term health and stability of wild deer populations in Kentucky.”
Testing will consist of collecting a few lymph nodes from the deer’s head. Hunters who wish to have their deer mounted can provide the name of the taxidermist so that arrangements can be made to collect samples from that location. The voluntary testing, which is designed to obtain TB samples from 500 deer from each of the two regions, is part of a joint monitoring effort by Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Kentucky’s TB Check Stations
- Boone County: Boone County Cooperative Extension office, 6028 Camp Ernst Road, Burlington,.
- Bath County: Bath County Cooperative Extension office, 2914 East U.S. 60, Owingsville.
- Nicholas County: Nicholas County Cooperative Extension office, 268 East Main St., Carlisle.
- Fleming County: Fleming County Cooperative Extension office, 1384 Elizaville Road, Flemingsburg.
Hunters outside of these areas can assist with monitoring for TB in deer as well. Hunters who see swollen lymph nodes, nodules in the lungs or chest cavity in any deer they are field dressing should report this to Kentucky Fish and Wildlife as soon as possible. If you see something, say something.