Wild deer in tall grass.

‘Bovine Tuberculosis’ Appearing in Michigan?

In October 2018, a warning appeared and made its way around the usual internet circles to warn against eating meat from deer afflicted with “bovine tuberculosis.” The warning was accompanied by a rather unappetizing photograph of a lesion-studded hunk of meat that showed what people should avoid:

Michigan DNR to hunters: Test your deer for bovine tuberculosis

This warning (and the accompanying photograph) is legitimate, although it is somewhat outdated. The original article appeared on Michigan.gov in July 2017:

Since 1995, Michigan has been testing white-tailed deer for bovine tuberculosis year-round. Michigan has the longest- running continuous wildlife TB surveillance program in the world.

“Most Michiganders, and even most policymakers, don’t realize how much we’ve learned about bTB in the last 20 years”, said Dan O’Brien, veterinary specialist with DNR’s wildlife disease lab. “The research we’ve done here in Michigan is respected around the world.

“Other countries dealing with similar outbreaks of bTB continue to watch our situation with great interest. At this point, we know what it will take to get rid of bTB. Whether we as a state will choose to make that happen though is still an open question.”

The original warning was belched back into the public consciousness in October 2018 because a large cattle herd in Alcona County was found to be infected with bovine tuberculosis, the 73rd herd so infected since 1998:

Bovine TB is a bacterial disease that also has infected free-ranging whitetail deer in parts of the northeastern Lower Peninsula.

Cattle in Alcona, Alpena, Montmorency and Oscoda counties must be tested before they are moved off the farm, which can help prevent the illness from spreading.

Assistant State Veterinarian Nancy Barr says farmers in that area should do all they can to prevent deer from having contact with cattle feeding and watering areas.

The original warning simply urges hunters to get the wild deer they kill tested free of charge before consumption, even if it looks healthy. Humans as well as cattle can potentially contract bovine tuberculosis, which is relatively rare, but potentially fatal if left untreated.