Michigan Hunter Contracts Bovine TB

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A hunter was diagnosed with a rare human case of an animal lung disease called bovine tuberculosis (search) after he cut his hand while gutting an infected deer, state health officials said Thursday.

He is the first living person diagnosed with the strain of bovine tuberculosis that has been found in some northern Michigan deer and cattle in recent years, said T.J. Bucholz, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Community Health. The disease — difficult for humans to get but highly contagious in animals — has saddled farmers with costly testing requirements and limits to how they market their cattle in neighboring states.

Officials would not release the hunter's name or home town, but said the deer was killed in Alcona County. The man is in good condition and is being treated with antibiotics, Bucholz said.

The same strain of bovine TB was found during an autopsy of an elderly person who died in 2002, but it was not the cause of death, he said.

Eradication programs and milk pasteurization have reduced the number of human cases over the years. Different strains of the disease have been found in eight people from foreign countries in Michigan since 1995.

The hunter in the new case sought medical attention after cutting his hand while removing the innards of the deer and noticing lesions in the animal's chest cavity, Bucholz said. The rare human cases usually are caused by breathing barn air infected by a sick cow or drinking unpasteurized milk from an infected cow.

"This appearance of bovine TB in a human underscores the human health risk of the disease in free-ranging deer," said Janet Olszewski, state community health director. "People should not consume wild animals that appear or are confirmed to be sick, regardless of the circumstance."

Michigan lost its federal bovine TB-free status in 2000, six years after discovery of an infected deer. State officials have ordered testing of the state's nearly 1 million cattle, and some herds have undergone multiple testing, said Bridget Patrick, coordinator of the state's eradication task force.

Because the bacteria grow extremely slowly and tend to remain dormant, there is no reliable way to ensure the disease has been eliminated from an infected herd. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends killing herds known to have it.