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Humans can pass on bovine TB

13th April 2007

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) is warning that Bovine TB can spread from human to human.

After six cases, one of which proved fatal, emerged in Birmingham it was revealed that all the victims had been in the same bar yet only one had been in contact with infected un-pasteurised milk or cattle. The HPA launched an investigation and DNA fingerprinting found all six cases to be identically linked, despite occurring over an 18-month period. The HPA said that stringent controls need to be established to protect the public but stressed that Bovine TB is still extremely rare in humans. The Agency added that four of the sufferers had suppressed immunity due to HIV infection, diabetes and/or misuse of alcohol or steroids.  A spokesperson also pointed out that nightclubs and bars are the perfect environment for airborne infections to spread due to poor ventilation and smoking.

Mycobacterium bovis infection was fairly common in humans until the introduction of pasteurisation laws in the late 19th century.  Before this, 50,000 new cases of the disease and 2,500 deaths were recorded annually. However today, only 1 per cent of TB cases in the West derive from cattle. 

A government spokesperson responded to the HPA findings by saying that human to human spread of Bovine TB is still extremely rare. He added, "A low occupational risk of M bovis infection remains for farmers, veterinarians, abattoir workers and other people who may come into contact with infected animals or their carcases, or for those who regularly consume un-pasteurised cows milk."

 

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