Deer can pass tuberculosis to humans, CDC says

Heads up, hunters: You can potentially contract tuberculosis from deer infected with the bacterial disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced.

A 77-year-old Michigan man was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 2017 after he was exposed to Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis) – a mycobacterium that’s often found in cattle, bison, elk, and deer – while removing the intestines from an infected deer, the CDC said in a recent report.

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The man’s case of TB came more than a decade after two other hunters in the same area were infected in 2002 and 2004, respectively.

Tuberculosis bacteria can live in the body without making people sick. But when the bacteria become active and multiply, infected people begin to show symptoms such as bad cough, pain in the chest, night sweats and coughing up blood. At that point, those infected are considered to be ill with what's referred to as "TB disease."

A 77-year-old Michigan man was diagnosed with tuberculosis after he was exposed to Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis) while removing the intestines from an infected deer, the CDC said.

A 77-year-old Michigan man was diagnosed with tuberculosis after he was exposed to Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis) while removing the intestines from an infected deer, the CDC said. (Stock)

Lab tests revealed the man – who “regularly hunted and field-dressed deer in the area during the past 20 years,” per the CDC – was likely exposed to a “circulating strain of M. bovis at some point through his hunting activities and had reactivation of infection as pulmonary disease in 2017."

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Contacting bovine tuberculosis is rare; it accounts for less than 2 percent of tuberculosis disease cases in the U.S., the federal health agency says. People can contract it by consuming unpasteurized dairy products, or by coming into contact with “body fluids or tissue” from infected deer, elk or wild bison. Dairy workers are also at risk of contracting it through infected cattle — though the disease has nearly been eliminated from commercial cattle in the U.S.

Tuberculosis caused by M. bovis is treated similarly to cases caused by M. tuberculosis, a bacterium that's more commonly linked to the disease, according to the CDC.