How to spot bovine tuberculosis (bovine TB), what to do if you suspect it and measures to prevent its spread.
Bovine TB affects cattle and other mammals including humans, badgers, deer, goats, pigs, dogs and cats.
The disease is currently present in Great Britain.
Bovine TB is a notifiable disease. That means if you suspect it you must tell the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) immediately. Failure to do so is an offence.
How to spot bovine TB
It is hard to spot bovine TB as the signs are similar to other diseases and normally only develop in advanced stages of infection.
The disease is normally picked up in the compulsory cattle testing programme before clinical signs develop. Occasionally it is also detected during inspections of slaughtered cattle.
But you should look out for cattle that:
- keep getting thinner
- have a light fever that keeps coming back
- are weak and have a reduced appetite
Some infected cattle will also have:
- swollen lymph nodes, for example in the neck
- a moist cough that gets worse in the morning and during cold weather or exercise
- chronic mastitis (an infection of the udder that is not cured by the conventional antibiotic therapy)
Risk to humans
Humans can catch bovine TB through:
- unpasteurised milk or dairy products from an infected cow, buffalo, goat or sheep
- inhaling bacteria breathed out by infected animals
- inhaling bacteria released from the carcasses of infected animals or from their excretions (such as faeces)
Infection is more likely if an unprotected wound is exposed to bacteria from an infected animal.
But the risk of infection is very low for the vast majority of the population.
Symptoms are similar to human TB, including weight loss, fever, night sweats and a persistent cough. If you develop these symptoms consult a doctor. The disease can be treated by a complex combination of drugs over a long period.
More information on TB in humans can be found at Public Health England.
How to reduce the risk of infection
To avoid infection:
- isolate suspect animals and their carcasses
- do not get too close to the heads of infected animals or hold them
- avoid unpasteurised milk from suspect animals
- wash your hands regularly, especially before eating and smoking
- don’t eat, drink or smoke in animal areas
How bovine TB is spread
Bovine TB is mainly spread into new herds through the movement of infected cattle that have not been detected.
In the west of England and parts of Wales the disease is also spread from infected badgers to other animals, including cattle, and vice versa.
Infected animals spread the disease mainly through coughing and sneezing. Bacteria are released into the air and inhaled by other animals in close contact.
The disease can also be spread:
- from infected cows to their offspring during suckling and, much more rarely, in the womb
- through contaminated equipment, animal waste, feed and pasture
Preventing and controlling bovine TB
Preventing bovine TB
There are a range of controls in place to reduce the spread of bovine TB. These controls form the basis of the strategy for achieving bovine TB free status for England.
You should also practise strict biosecurity on your premises.
A series of videos about farm biosecurity is also available which shows practical measures to reduce the risk of TB from wildlife.
If you suspect bovine TB
- immediately inform your nearest APHA office
- isolate suspected animals
- not allow animals, equipment, carcasses or animal milk to leave your farm
An APHA vet will inspect your herd. If they can not rule out bovine TB, they will carry out tests.
If bovine TB is confirmed
If your animals are infected, restrictions will be imposed. Certain movements on and off restricted premises may be allowed, but only under licence from APHA.
Some of your cattle may have to be killed, but you will be compensated.
Further information on prevention and control
Legislation relating to bovine TB
The main EU legislation on bovine TB is Directive 64/432/EEC.
The main domestic legislation is the Tuberculosis (England) (Amendment) Order 2014.
Published: 26 August 2014
Updated: 1 October 2014
- AHVLA documents have been re-assigned to the new Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).
- First published.