Warning to Hunters: Deer Can Transmit Tuberculosis to Humans During Field-Dressing Process
As deer hunting season opens in various parts of the country, the Centers for Disease Control has warned that deer are capable of transmitting tuberculosis to humans.
A CDC report dated Sept. 20 examined a 2017 case in which a 77-year-old man who had no exposure to people or countries that might have infected him was diagnosed with tuberculosis.
However, the man was a hunter, the CDC learned.
What’s more, the man hunted in a region of Michigan where a bacteria called mycobacterium bovis is more prevalent in deer there than other places. The bacteria, which can cause tuberculosis, was linked to cases of humans getting the disease in 2002 and 2004, the CDC reported.
The CDC believes that the bacteria may have been inhaled by hunters while they were field-dressing the carcass of an animal they had killed, at least in the 2002 and 2017 cases.
The man who was infected most recently, the CDC noted, had been field-dressing animals for 20 years.
The risk of deer-to-human infection is unclear, the CDC said.
“Transmission to humans also occurs, as demonstrated by the three cases described in this report; however, the risk for transmission is understudied,” the CDC report said.
It also noted that the initial exposure “can lead to latent or active infection, with risk for eventual reactivation of latent disease, especially in immunocompromised hosts.”
The CDC said that to prevent exposure, “hunters are encouraged to use personal protective equipment while field-dressing deer.”
Penn State’s Field Dressing Deer Pocket Guide has recommendations on safety precautions.
“To reduce your risk of exposure to disease, wear disposable plastic gloves while handling animals,” the guide reads.
“Wash hands and arms thoroughly with soap and water before and after dressing. Using clean water, pre-moistened wipes, or alcohol wipes, clean your knife frequently between cuts to prevent bacterial contamination.”
The American Veterinary Medical Association also provides its own recommendations.
“When field dressing an elk or deer, hunters should look for tan or yellow pea-sized lumps in the wall of the rib cage or in the lungs. If these lumps are present, the hunter should immediately stop handling the carcass, attach a game tag, and contact the local fish and wildlife agency,” it said.
The CDC recommended an extra step for hunters in Michigan.
“In addition, hunters in Michigan who submit deer heads that test positive for M. bovis might be at higher risk for infection, and targeted screening for tuberculosis could be performed,” the CDC recommended.
“If it looks like there is an abscess in a piece of meat then you want to avoid it,” wildlife veterinarian Dan Grove told KATU.
“You always want to be cautious handling meat until you cook it and take basic precautions like wearing gloves. Sometimes everything looks good but you might get into dressing the animal and see something.”
Grove said that Michigan and Minnesota are the only states to date in which tuberculosis has been reported in wildlife.
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