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Department of Agriculture & Markets

    

Jessica A. Chittenden
518-457-3136
jessica.chittenden@agriculture.ny.gov

December 02, 2008

Update: Tuberculosis in Columbia County Captive Deer

Bovine Form of TB Confirmed; Depopulation Ordered to Eliminate Risk of Spread

The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets today provided an update on the situation in Columbia County where tuberculosis (TB) was found in a captive deer herd last month.

The Department received definitive results from the USDA National Veterinary Services Laboratories confirming Mycobacterium bovis infection in one captive fallow deer. M. bovis, as it is commonly referred to, is the agent that causes bovine TB and can spread to other species, including humans.

Over the past month, the Department of Agriculture and Markets has been testing neighboring livestock herds, and the Department of Environmental Conservation has been surveying the wild deer population. Both agencies have not found any signs of bovine TB in any animal outside of the affected captive deer herd, however the disease can be undetectable in live animals and easily overlooked in early stages in dead animals. Consequently, samples from wild deer that become available in the area of concern are being sent for mycobacteria culture at the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa.

The risk of transmission of TB is a serious threat to the health of both animals and humans. Currently, the exposed herd is under quarantine. The Department has ordered that the remaining 15 exposed red and fallow deer be euthanized and that further testing be conducted. By eliminating these exposed animals, the State aims to remove a potential source of future TB infections.

The finding of TB in Columbia County was the result of routine disease testing conducted by the Department of Agriculture and Markets. While commonly thought of as a lung disease, TB may affect nearly any organ in livestock. Animals infected with TB may at first look normal, but as the disease progresses, they may become thin and weak. Infected deer are particularly hard to detect visually, and may appear outwardly normal for several years after being infected.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has been actively engaged in this situation, looking for signs of TB in wild deer in and around Columbia County. DEC biologists will continue to examine and collect samples from both road-killed and hunter-harvested deer to be sure the infection has not spread to New York’s wild deer population. With the assistance of state and local highway departments, local deer processors, and local hunters, DEC has been able to examine carcasses and collect test samples from approximately 145 deer in the area surrounding the farm for TB. To date, no lesions consistent with bovine TB have been detected.

Hunters or others who handle deer are encouraged to take basic precautions, such as wearing protective gloves when field dressing deer and minimizing exposure to blood and other body fluids. When field dressing deer, hunters should be alert to abscesses in the lungs and rib cage, intestines, liver or stomach. Meat from animals with abscesses should not be eaten. Anyone seeing these signs or other unusual lesions in deer should contact DEC at 518-402-8965.

The Columbia County and New York State Departments of Health also continue to monitor this situation. While bovine TB can be transmitted to humans, transmission requires ingestion of the infectious agent or inhalation through close contact with infected animals. In rare instances, tuberculosis may be transmitted through contamination of cuts or other breaks in the skin. There is no evidence that TB has been transmitted from deer to any humans in this situation.

New York State has worked for more than 70 years to earn and maintain a TB-free status for livestock. Sporadic outbreaks of TB have occurred since it was eradicated with the last case in cattle detected in 1992 and the last case in captive deer detected in 1995. Due to the limitations of current TB tests, depopulation of animals in infected herds is the best long term strategy to contain the disease. In both 1992 and 1995, the disease was successfully contained and eliminated in this manner, minimizing the impact of these isolated outbreaks to domestic livestock populations.

Livestock owners concerned about TB are welcome to call the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets at 518-457-3502.

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2008 Press Releases