As a teenager, I had a reoccurring job cleaning stalls for a horse farm over the summers. I remember once approaching a boarded mare with a veterinarian’s warning on its stall door.
“You didn’t actually touch that horse, did you?” the foreman asked. The question made a panicky feeling start to rise in me, because there’s something especially icky about contracting an animal-borne illness.
It turned out that the warning was there to keep the horse from getting exposed to human sicknesses, not the other way around. Still, that experience stuck with me. I imagine there are a few hunters in the American Midwest who have felt the same way after encountering bovine tuberculosis.
According to The Hunting News, bovine tuberculosis started in domesticated cattle. A nasty bug, it primarily attacks the lungs, causing whitish lesions to pepper the inside of an animal’s chest cavity.
However, it isn’t restricted solely to cows. It can also appear coyotes, wild boar, raccoons, and opossums.
What’s more, it has shown up in white-tailed deer and elk in Michigan, Minnesota and Indiana — all avid hunting areas. So it’s no wonder that KTXS reported on an official government warning.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has urged hunters to keep an eye out for those distinctive lesions. It also pointed out that animals can spread it through saliva, coughing, and sneezing, just the same ways that humans spread their own illnesses.
In fact, that shared commonality coupled with how dramatic the disease looks has caused warnings about it to explode across social media. But is it really as dangerous as breathless reports make it seem?
Well, bovine tuberculosis does pose a threat to humans. And at least one hunter has contracted it.
But as Snopes has pointed out, the number of infected deer is glancingly small. Michigan officials have aggressively tested deer since the mid-’90s.
Indeed, the state has the longest running testing program for the disease in the world. Do you know what its data showed?
In the period since the program began, only 900 out of 230,000 animals have tested positive for the illness. That’s an infection rate of about 0.4 percent.
Again, understand that this doesn’t mean people face no risk whatsoever. Anyone who comes in contact with the bodily fluids of an infected animal could contract the disease.
What’s more, not every deer or cow with bovine tuberculosis will have those distinctive pustules. However, the state will provide free testing of any carcass bearing indications of bTB.
Hunters don’t need to abandon their favorite sport, though. All they have to do is adhere to good meat-processing practices.
They can even enjoy the meat of their kills. Cooking the meat to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit will kill numerous kinds of bacteria, including those that cause bovine tuberculosis.
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