Bovine tuberculosis in ND — What to look out for

FARGO — North Dakota officials announced mid-January they are investigating an outbreak of bovine tuberculosis in a beef cattle herd in the southeastern part of the state after the disease was identified in seven cows.

The outbreak at a small Sargent County family cattle operation is the first time this particular strain of the disease has been identified in the United States, and was first reported after lesions were discovered on two older beef cows at slaughter plants in South Dakota and Minnesota. The strain is usually found in Mexican cattle.

The disease is zoonotic, meaning it can be transmitted between animals and humans, but there is little risk of infection unless you are working closely with animals or drinking unpasteurized milk.

State Veterinarian Susan Keller told The Forum on Jan. 18 that the people probably most at risk are the veterinarians examining the animals.

Local healthcare providers agree — your chances of catching TB from these animals are very low.

"There's no need to panic with bovine tuberculosis," said Dr. Karol Kremens, a pulmonary medicine specialist at Essentia Health. "Especially in western countries like the United States, where there's only a few cases of bovine tuberculosis a year."

Kremens said farmers, butchers and hunters who work with large animals are the only people with a slightly higher risk. Even then, he said the chances are slim.

Only about 2 percent of human TB cases in the U.S. are bovine tuberculosis — less than 230 cases a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Not all infections present symptoms, but they include fever, night sweats and weight loss. Symptoms such as a cough or diarrhea can emerge depending on where the disease affects the body.

If you're a rancher with any of these symptoms, Dr. Kremens said to seek out a doctor as soon as possible.

"Tuberculosis is very easily treated, although treatment is rather long," he said. "But the fatal cases are only in untreated cases, frankly."

Dr. Kremens recommends the general public avoid unpasteurized, raw dairy products to avoid infection.