Tuberculosis (bovine)

Agricultural Disaster Preparedness and Recovery November 03, 2011 Print Friendly and PDF

Bovine tuberculosis is a highly infectious disease of cattle caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis. This bacterium can infect any warm-blooded animal, including people. Bovine tuberculosis is a chronic disease in which bacteria-filled tubercles can form on lymph nodes, lungs, and the chest cavity, causing progressive debilitation.

Respiratory tuberculosis is spread almost exclusively through the inhalation of droplets produced by coughing, or by inhaling contaminated dust particles. Tuberculosis may also be spread by drinking unpasteurized milk.

Bovine tuberculosis is currently the target of a federal tuberculosis eradication program and has been almost eliminated from the livestock population.


Endemic Areas

Mycobacterium bovis bacteria are found worldwide.


Clinical Signs

  • Progressive weight loss (emaciation)
  • Lethargy
  • Fever, low-grade, fluctuating
  • Anorexia (poor appetite)
  • Weakness
  • Moist cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Enlarged lymph nodes



There isn't any treatment for livestock with tuberculosis. Any animal suspected of having tuberculosis should be reported to the State Veterinarians or USDA Area Veterinarian in Charge immediately. Test and slaughter of positive tuberculin reactors is the primary means of eradicating the disease in livestock.



Tuberculosis introduction and spread may be prevented by following basic biosecurity practices including screening and quarantine of new animals or those returning from fairs or exhibitions, preventing herd contact with wildlife, and participation in routine surveillance testing.


Public Health

M. bovis can also cause tuberculosis in people. Tuberculosis infection is most often caused by inhaling infected airborne droplets from coughing/sneezing animals, humans can also become infected by drinking unpasteurized milk from infected animals. Symptoms of tuberculosis include deep coughing (may cough up blood), pain in the chest, weakness, fever, and weight loss.

Human tuberculosis infection is readily treatable with antibiotics, and patients should make a complete recovery. However, tuberculosis can be fatal if left untreated.



Connect with us

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Pinterest
  • Google+


This is where you can find research-based information from America's land-grant universities enabled by



This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.