Natural infection of red deer with bovine tuberculosis

Natural infection of red deer with bovine tuberculosis
Peer reviewed


Six bovine tuberculosis-free red deer hinds were introduced in October 1993 to a 1.8 ha enclosure, within a larger field study site known to contain tuberculous possums, and kept there for 9 months. A Mycobacterium bovis-infected possum was found in the vicinity of the deer enclosure 3 weeks after the introduction. Subsequently, a further eleven infected possums were found in the area. The deer were monitored by repeated composite antibody detection ELISA and lymphocyte transformation assays for tuberculosis, interpreted in parallel, by skin testing and by routine culturing of samples collected from potential excretion sites. Lymphocyte transformation assay evidence of M. bovis infection in four hinds was first observed 4 months after introduction. One other hind became bovine tuberculin lymphocyte transformation assay positive in the 5th month. Positive or equivocal bovine reactivity remained evident at most test episodes. A comparative cervical skin test performed in July 1994, shortly before slaughter, was positive in these five hinds. Mycobacterium bovis was recovered off swabs from the oropharyngeal tonsils of two hinds during routine sampling. Detailed necropsy of the six deer revealed a single typical tuberculous lesion in only one, but culturing of various tissue specimens ascertained that the five blood test and comparative cervical skin test-positive animals were all infected. Mycobacterium bovis was cultured from the oropharyngeal tonsils of four and medial retropharyngeal lymph nodes of two of the deer with no typical gross lesions. Six additional tuberculosis-free hinds were introduced to the enclosure in April 1994 and kept there for 12 months. Four of these animals showed a positive lymphocyte transformation assay response to M. bovis after 9 weeks, but no significant reactivity thereafter. Concurrent observational studies suggest that five of the first six deer probably became infected through close inspection and investigation of the tuberculous possums, although the possibility of deer-to-deer transmission cannot be totally excluded. The likely deer-possum contact, and thus exposure to M. bovis, was related to the curiosity and social ranking of the hinds. The second group appear to have had transient exposure to M. bovis, possibly caused by direct contact with the infected hinds introduced earlier. This group never showed any curiosity toward, or interaction with, possums during the periods of observation.

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