Bovine tuberculosis

Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is a chronic infectious disease of cattle caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis).

bTB is primarily a respiratory disease spread through moisture droplets either inhaled or by eating or drinking contaminated material. Humans can contract it but this is rare for those not directly in contact with livestock.

The disease is normally picked up in the compulsory cattle-testing programme before clinical signs develop but it is also often detected during inspections of slaughtered cattle.

Signs that an animal has bTB

  • Keeps getting thinner
  • Light fever that keeps coming back
  • Weak with reduced appetite

Some infected cattle will also have:

  • swollen lymph nodes particularly in the neck
  • moist cough that gets worse in the morning and during cold weather or exercise
  • chronic mastitis (an infection of the udder that is not cured by the conventional antibiotic therapy)

How bovine TB is spread

Bovine TB is mainly spread into new herds through the movement of infected cattle that have not been detected. Infected animals spread the disease mainly through coughing and sneezing. Bacteria are released into the air and inhaled by other animals in close contact.

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