How people get bovine tuberculosis. Or don’t get it.

Here in Britain some cattle (Bos primigenius) get bovine tuberculosis (bTB). It’s caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium bovis. Other animals including the wild badger (Meles meles) can get bTB. Some people think badgers are a reservoir of the disease but not everybody agrees about that. See my ‘badger’ tag if you want to read more.

As I mentioned a few days ago, bTB is bad news for the farmer because it’s a notifiable disease. It’s notifiable because people can get it. In other words, it’s a zoonosis.

BovineTB (‘looking for the reform of a costly and misguided system’) is a good source of bTB information. There, among other things, is an explanation of how humans can get bTB.

– We can get it by droplet infection (inhaling breath) from an infected bovine or human.
– We can get it by drinking unpasteurised milk from an infected animal.
– We can get it by handling infected meat or by eating that meat undercooked.

Overall, says BovineTB, ‘TB is no longer the human health problem it once was, particularly now virtually all milk is pasteurised and meat is cooked.’

The part about milk, yes, here in the rich world we mostly drink pasteurised milk and use that milk to make dairy products. But when it comes to eating meat, some people say that the ‘proper way’ to serve beef leaves it red in the middle. I’m a farmer’s granddaughter so I grew up eating meat that was ‘well done’ – brown all the way through – not saying ‘moo’. Now that I’ve done a PhD in veterinary parasitology I like to tell people, while eating, that I know what’s wriggling in their ‘medium’ or ‘rare’ steaks 😉

All right, I admit that M. bovis doesn’t wriggle. There are wriggly things in meat but M. bovis isn’t a wriggler. Still, it could be in your rare steak.

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About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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