Tuberculosis news causes unnecessary concern for most deer hunters

(Photo by Windigo Images)

ATHENS, GA – A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) touched off a wave of nationwide headlines about deer hunters and tuberculosis, but most news coverage failed to provide a very important detail: Bovine tuberculosis is eradicated in white-tailed deer except in a small area in the northeast Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Outside northeast Michigan, there is no reason for deer hunters to be concerned about bovine tuberculosis (TB).

The CDC case involved a 77-year-old Michigan hunter who contracted tuberculosis in 2017, apparently while field-dressing a deer. Even in the historical detection area that includes 13 counties in northeast Michigan, bovine TB is rare in deer.

“The highest prevalence of the disease in deer has been found in Deer Management Unit 452, occupying parts of four counties in the northeastern Northern Lower Peninsula,” said Dr. Kelly Straka, State Wildlife Veterinarian with Michigan DNR. “Within this DMU, approximately 2% of the deer tested for bovine TB are positive. Many Michiganders travel to this area to hunt. When you consider that we have had people harvesting deer in that part of the state for a long time, and very few cases where hunters have contracted tuberculosis and gotten sick, our experience suggests that bovine TB isn’t a particularly easy disease to transmit to people. That being said, the risk is not zero.”

For that reason, Michigan DNR recommends the following precautions for hunters in the affected area of Michigan:

  • Wear protective latex gloves when you field-dress a deer.
  • Don’t shoot or eat the meat of any animal that appears to be sick.
  • When you’re field-dressing deer, look for signs of the disease. Images of bovine TB in deer are available on the State of Michigan’s Emerging Diseases website.
  • Cook venison thoroughly (to a minimum of 160 to 165 degrees), although do not eat any deer that you suspect was sick or that tested positive for bovine TB.

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