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Bovine Tuberculosis is a Health Threat to Cattle and People Who Eat Their Meat


Bovine tuberculosis is a progressive wasting disease. It affects mainly cattle but also sheep, goats, pigs and other animals. People who get bovine TB have to take strong antibiotics for up to nine months to cure them.

People can get sick from infected cows by drinking milk that has not been heated to kill germs. Another risk is eating meat that has not been cooked to seventy-four degrees Celsius. If an infected animal is processed, cutting through lung or lymph tissue can spread the M. bovis bacteria to other parts of the meat.

Bovine TB is a major problem in parts of Africa. Farmers in Canada and Britain have also lost many cattle in recent years. In Britain, debate continues about whether badgers pass TB to other animals.

Infected cows might lose weight and develop a cough. The bacteria can spread from the sudden expulsion of air from the lungs. Or infected animals can appear healthy. Then, when they give birth,their milk can pass the infection to their young.

In the early twentieth century, bovine TB probably killed more animals in the United States than all other diseases combined. To control it, the government launched a successful testing program.
Historians say animal doctors ordered the destruction of about four million cattle between nineteen seventeen and nineteen forty.

The American state of Michigan has been fighting tuberculosis in cattle. Experts identified wild deer as the source of infection. The neighboring state of Minnesota and the western state of California have also had to deal with TB in cattle and deer.

Cows and wild deer can infect each other -- for example, if they share cattle feed left in fields during winter. Possible solutions might include building fences or leaving smaller amounts of hay.

Experts say the most effective form of control is to destroy cattle herds that have been exposed to bovine tuberculosis. This prevents any chance that infected cows might be moved to another farm.

In April, the United States Department of Agriculture announced the availability of nearly seventeen million dollars in emergency assistance. The Department said the money is meant for programs to fight bovine TB in California, Michigan and Minnesota.

The states are to use the money to destroy cattle herds shown to have tuberculosis. The aid could also be used to study the affected groups and identify the cause of infection.

Listen to audio for more details.

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