Can bovine TB affect people?

Human cases of bovine TB are rare in developed countries like New Zealand thanks to our pasteurisation and testing programmes. However, in areas of the developing world where pasteurisation is not routine, bovine TB is a fairly common cause of TB in people.

TB in humans is more often caused by a related — but different — form of bacterium, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, that also mostly affects the lungs.

Cases of humans contracting bovine TB in New Zealand are few and far between.

Avoiding exposure to bovine TB

The most likely source of exposure to bovine TB in New Zealand would be through:

  • drinking unpasteurised milk from an infected cow
  • having close contact with infected livestock, such as during milking
  • handling an infected animal carcass.

The best protection is to make sure all meat is well cooked, and eat and drink pasteurised dairy products — avoid raw milk.

Hunters are most at risk of exposure to TB in New Zealand, as handling an infected animal carcass carries a risk of infection.

If you think you, or someone you know, has been exposed to TB contact your doctor or medical practitioner immediately.

Protecting your animals against TB

Working dogs and household pets can also get infected with TB. To protect them from exposure don’t feed raw pig heads, raw possum meat or other offal to your animals.