Bovine tuberculosis study ‘came together really well,’ according to DNR official

News Photo by Mike Gonzalez Emily Sewell, a DNR wildlife health specialist, shows off the inside of the deer sample kit used to test for bovine tuberculosis at a DNR office off of M-32 on Tuesday.

ALPENA — The field study for an oral bovine tuberculosis vaccine for wild deer in Alpena County has reportedly done well, according to DNR Wildlife Health Specialist Emily Sewell.

The study was done under the management of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service-Wildlife Services.

Sewell could not give specific numbers for the study but said that researchers, the DNR, and the Wildlife Division are very pleased with the results and uptake of vaccines from wild deer.

“They had very good uptake of the vaccine delivery units,” Sewell said. “It kind of exceeded what their general expectation or goal had been. Overall, everything came together really well.”

Expectations for the project were difficult to estimate for everyone involved because its main subject for the study was wild deer.

To attract wild deer in the area, the research team put out mini supplements with food that deer might want to snack on, such as shredded alfalfa, molasses, and other substances.

The last ingredient is the liquid vaccine, which researchers had put in a gelatinous, alginate sphere that bursts open in the deer’s mouth.

“There’s been work done, leading up to this, to know what material the deer will like and how big each portion of the food should be,” Sewell said. “When they chew it, the BCG vaccine needs to kind of bathe their tonsils, so it’s great when they really chew it, so it’s a small enough thing that won’t fall out like an apple where they might take one bite and it drops down.”

While tests are going better than the research team’s expectations, the trial still needs to go through more steps that take weeks before seeing any solid results.

The deer have taken the vaccine and Sewell said it takes about six weeks before a deer’s immune system has created any response to the vaccine.

The deer were also never marked in any way by the research team, so the Wildlife Division will go out to the trial sites and harvest about 10 deer to see if they were vaccinated.

“We have to wait a certain amount of time, but then we can’t go too long, because then you know, you wouldn’t detect it as well as before,” Sewell said. “So there’s this kind of sweet spot of when the Wildlife Division needs to go out and harvest some data for testing.”

Once the next part of the trial is done and results are produced, Sewell said that further plans will be made soon after evaluations from researchers.

She said most research is done in captive settings and that this is the first time the tuberculosis vaccine has been given to wild deer in the U.S.

“It’ll be a while before we can really understand if putting those vaccine delivery units down was successful in vaccinating any deer,” Sewell said. “This doesn’t sound cutting edge or very exciting, but it’s new. It has a lot of applications in other places in the world where there are bigger TB risks and issues, so to be able to apply some of the things we’ve learned for more research or management in other places is exciting for everyone.”

Sewell said the final number of deer who tested positive for bovine tuberculosis in Northeast Michigan will be released on Thursday at the Natural Resources Commission.

The DNR website shows that as of Feb. 2, Alcona County had seven positive cases, Alpena County had 13, Montmorency County had one, and Presque Isle County had one.

According to Sewell, the vaccine given to the deer is bacille Calmette-Guerine, a common tuberculosis vaccine used for people. The vaccine can be detected in the intestinal organs of the deer but has not been detected in muscle tissue usually consumed by people.

Sewell said if anyone is concerned about consuming the vaccine, cooking the meat at 140 degrees for six minutes will kill any remnants of the product.

“What’s important to keep in mind is that this is not the silver bullet that’s going to fix it,” Sewell said. “This field trial is really just putting our toe in the water and understanding if the deer consumed the vaccine delivery unit and if they’re getting properly vaccinated.”


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