An "emerging disease" is causing concern for cattle ranchers and hunters alike. Bovine Tuberculosis normally affects cows, but deer can also become infected. Michigan officials have detected the disease in free-range beef herds, and the cattle are spreading it to deer roaming through their territory. Humans who eat infected animals can catch this serious, even deadly disease.

How Bovine TB Spreads

People assume because it's called bovine this type of tuberculosis can only affect cows. Really cattle act as reservoirs for the disease, but it can spread to many species.

Infected animals spread bacteria through feces, urine, unpasteurized milk or respiratory secretions. If a cow relieves itself in the deer's feeding pasture, the deer consumes it. Then the deer might spread it into the woods to be contracted by raccoons, coyote and opossums.

The main concern is when animals typically used as food contract the disease. People don't eat opossums, but we handle and eat cows, dairy products, elk and deer.

Bovine TB and Humans

The disease spreads through mucous, so it's in saliva and other fluids. People can catch Bovine TB in many of the same ways they would a cold or flu virus. If an infected animal sneezes and humans inhale the bacteria, infection could result. If you handle items containing Bovine TB then eat or touch your face, it could lead to infection.

Symptoms of infection with bovine tuberculosis are fever, night sweats, coughing, diarrhea and abdominal pain. The disease can be treated with antibiotics, but left unchecked complications can be serious and sometimes fatal.

How to Protect Yourself

It's best to assume any animal you come in contact with might be infected. Wash your hands if you handle deer, elk, cattle or anything that might have been exposed to them. Thoroughly cook all meat before you eat it.

Hunters can check deer for swollen or infected lymph nodes. Animals with advanced cases might have yellow lumps along the chest wall and embedded in lung tissue.