Bovine tuberculosis detected in a cow for the first time in 25 years on Molokai

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By Star-Advertiser Staff –

Bovine tuberculosis, a contagious disease in animals that can infect humans, has been detected in a cow on Molokai for the first time in 25 years, according to the state Department of Agriculture.

The DOA said in a news release today that the cow came from a herd of 30 in Hoolehua, in the central part of Molokai, but had been temporarily moved to Mapulehu, on the east side of the island, because of a drought.

Bovine tuberculosis has been lingering, likely in wildlife, in that part of the island for decades.

The Animal Industry Division on June 22 tested the herd, which is currently in quarantine in Hoolehua. The DOA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are working on a “clean-up plan” that will include the culling of the entire herd. Indemnity will be paid to the owner of the herd.

Additionally, nearby herds will be tested.

“While the detection of bovine tuberculosis has only been confirmed in one animal to date, it is the foremost priority for the department to isolate and control this disease before it can spread to other cattle herds on the island,” said Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser, chairwoman of the state’s Board of Agriculture, in a statement. “Of all people, Moloka`i ranchers understand the importance of containing this disease and we appreciate their continued cooperation and assistance.”

The DOA said there have been sporadic outbreaks of bovine tuberculosis on Molokai, especially on the east side, since the 1940s, but this is the first detection of the disease since an outbreak in 1997.

During an outbreak in 1985, the department decided to kill all the cows on the island — more than 9,000 total — in an attempt to eliminate the disease by “removing the host,” state veterinarian Dr. Isaac Maeda said.

“I think back then the idea was to totally depopulate the islands to remove any type of risk,” he said. “It was more widespread. It wasn’t like a single cow tested positive at the time — it was several cattle that were positive.”

Instead, the disease just moved to the wildlife, Maeda said.

In 1993 Hawaii was given a “bovine tuberculosis free” status by the USDA, according to the DOA. However, that status was suspended in 1997 after the detection of an infected 1o-year-old cow that may have contracted the disease by infected feral pigs.

An entire herd was killed, and Hawaii regained its status the following year.

Since then cattle herds in east Molokai have been tested annually, and some monitoring has been conducted on wildlife. The current suspicion is that the most recently infected cow was, as may have been the case in 1997, given the disease by feral pigs.

“That particular cow was in an area that previously had TB in wildlife, on the eastern end (of Molokai),” Maeda said.

Bovine tuberculosis has also been detected in axis deer and mongoose on Molokai, although not in the last 25 years, the DOA said. Maeda noted that there isn’t extensive sampling for wildlife, so it’s less clear what the spread of bovine tuberculosis is like beyond cattle.

A nationwide program to eliminate the disease in cattle began in 1917, although there are still occasional outbreaks in places like Molokai and Michigan.

There is ongoing research to develop a vaccine that can be used in wildlife, although Maeda said that research is still in its early stages.

The most common way bovine tuberculosis is spread to humans is through the consumption of unpasteurized dairy, but it can also spread by eating raw or undercooked meat from an infected animal.

Additionally, people can become infected through direct contact between the disease-causing bacteria and an open wound, and the disease can spread between people via coughs and sneezes.

Bovine tuberculosis can affect the lungs, lymph nodes and other parts of the body, although some people are asymptomatic and cannot spread the disease.

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