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N Z Vet J. 2004 Aug;52(4):163-74.

Mycobacterial diseases of deer.

Author information

1
AgResearch Invermay, PO Box 50034, Mosgiel, New Zealand. colin.mackintosh@agresearch.co.nz

Abstract

The most significant mycobacterial diseases of free-living, captive and farmed deer are bovine tuberculosis, caused by Mycobacterium bovis, Johne's disease (paratuberculosis), caused by Mycobacterium avium subsp paratuberculosis (basonym M. paratuberculosis), and avian tuberculosis, caused principally by M. avium subsp avium. The first case of M. bovis infection in farmed deer was identified in New Zealand in 1978. In 1983, a voluntary scheme was introduced in New Zealand to control tuberculosis in farmed deer, followed by a compulsory tuberculosis control scheme in 1990. The primary control measure is the slaughter of infected animals, detected by skin testing and blood testing, together with movement control and vector control. The number of infected deer herds peaked in the mid 1990s at over 160 herds, but by 30 June 2002 this had been reduced to 79 (1.45%), and to 67 (1.23%) by June 2003. Deer-to-deer transmission occurs, but the majority of herd breakdowns are believed to be from infected vectors. Factors likely to affect the susceptibility of deer include age, environment, population density, exposure and genetics. Avian tuberculosis occasionally causes clinical disease in wild, captive and farmed deer in New Zealand and overseas. Mycobacterium intracellulare, and subspecies of M. avium other than M. paratuberculosis, are widespread throughout New Zealand and are thought to be largely responsible for the high level of sensitisation to avian purified protein derivative (PPD), which is used for comparison purposes in tuberculosis skin testing of deer in this country. Infections with these organisms are usually subclinical in farmed deer, although M. avium subsp avium commonly causes lesions in retropharyngeal, mesenteric and ileocaecal lymph nodes. These lesions cause problems because of their gross and microscopic similarity to those due to M. bovis infection. Birds and domestic animals are most likely to become infected via environmental contamination of food, water, bedding litter or soil, while carnivores or scavengers may also become infected by ingesting infected carcasses. Johne's disease has been reported in deer in the wild and in zoos, especially in North America, the United Kingdom (UK) and Europe. Since first being confirmed in farmed deer in New Zealand in 1979, the incidence of Johne's disease has increased steadily. To date, M. paratuberculosis has been identified in >600 farmed deer on 300 properties. The majority of cases have been identified from suspected tuberculous lesions submitted from deer slaughter plants. Clinically, Johne's disease in deer is similar to the disease in sheep and cattle, with typical signs of loss of weight and condition, and diarrhoea. However, outbreaks of Johne's disease frequently occur in young red deer, 8-15 months of age, whereas the clinical disease in sheep and cattle is sporadic and usually affects adults 3-5 years of age. The disease is characterised by a chronic granulomatous enteritis and lymphadenitis, especially affecting the jejunum and ileum and the mesenteric lymph nodes. Deer affected subclinically may have lesions in these lymph nodes at slaughter, which are grossly indistinguishable from those due to bovine tuberculosis. Because of the antigenic similarity between M. intracellulare and all the subspecies of M. avium, including M. paratuberculosis, the diagnostic tests for Johne's disease lack sensitivity and specificity, making control difficult.

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