What is Bovine Tuberculosis?

What is Bovine Tuberculosis?

The bad news is that it is subtle and deadly, the good news is that Australia has officially been declared clear of it since 1997. So, what exactly is Bovine Tuberculosis?
Bovine Tuberculosis or Bovine TB is a chronic, contagious and slow-growing disease caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium bovis that can affect nearly all mammals. This bacterium is a zoonosis meaning it can also spread to humans, often through unpasteurised dairy products.

Bovine Tuberculosis in Australia

Following an intensive, nation-wide eradication program that started nearly 30 years earlier, Australia was officially declared free from bovine TB in December 1997. Australia is considered to be the only major producer and exporter of cattle that is free from this disease.

This freedom was achieved by the introduction and implementation of the national Brucellosis and Tuberculosis Eradication Program or BTEC in 1970. With the goal to extinguish M. bovis from all cattle and buffalo herds in Australia, in there being no detection of the disease in any species in Australia since 2002. This success can be credited to certain points including unified commitment and support from the livestock industry and each level of government, whole herd test and slaughter, dedicated movement controls, quarantine and traceback, establishment of national diagnosis techniques, improved knowledge of the disease and overall a more flexible, national approach to research.

The BTEC, was followed by surveillance programs, Tuberculosis Freedom Assurance Program (TFAP) and TFAP2 in 1997 and 2002 respectively. These were implemented as a measure to maintain the Tuberculosis freedom. These programs involved and worked in conjunction with Australia's Tuberculosis Reference Library, The National Granuloma Submission Program (NGSP) and the NGSP database as well as an emergency response strategy, strict biosecurity measures and legal requirements.

The 'Tuberculosis Free' status which Australia declared in 1997 exceeded even the 'Tuberculosis Free' status as defined by the Terrestrial Animal Health Code of the World Organisation for Animal Health.

Clinical Signs, Symptoms and Diagnosis of Bovine Tuberculosis

M bovis can lie dormant in an animal for years before any clinical signs or symptoms are noticeable. However, during periods of stress or when the animal is older it can reactivate and as the disease progresses, signs of the disease are more obvious. These can include:

  • Enlarged lesions found in tissues such as the lymph nodes of the head and thorax, lung, spleen, liver and surfaces of body cavities. Lesions will range in size from 1mm to more than 10cm.
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Fluctuating fever
  • Irregular hacking cough
  • Diarrhea
  • Chronic mastitis


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