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Use of the Human Vaccine, Mycobacterium bovis Bacillus Calmette Guérin in Deer

The only vaccine ever approved for human tuberculosis was developed a century ago from an isolate of Mycobacterium bovis derived from a tuberculous cow. Initial safety and efficacy studies of an attenuated version of this isolate were conducted in cattle and other animals. In 1921 the first human, an infant, was orally dosed with this attenuated strain that came to be known as M. bovis bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG); named for Albert Calmette and Camille Guérin, the two French scientists that developed the strain. Since 1921, billions of people have been vaccinated with BCG making it the oldest, most widely used, and safest vaccine in use today. It is also the tuberculosis vaccine most studied for use in wildlife, including deer. While BCG vaccination of deer may not reliably prevent infection, it consistently decreases lesion severity, minimizing large, necrotic lesions, which often contain large numbers of bacilli. It is believed that decreased lesion severity correlates with decreased disease transmission; however, this hypothesis remains to be proven. Safety studies in white-tailed deer show BCG may persist in lymphoid tissues for up to 12 months; a factor to be considered in deer used for food. Beyond efficacy and safety, methods of vaccine delivery to free-ranging deer are also under investigation, both in the laboratory and in the field. The ideal delivery method is effective, efficient and safe for non-target species, including livestock. Ingestion of BCG by cattle is of special concern as such cattle may present as “false positives” using currently approved diagnostic methods, thus interfering with efforts by animal health agencies to monitor cattle for tuberculosis. An effective BCG vaccine for deer would be of value in regions where free-ranging deer represent a potential source of M. bovis for livestock. Such a vaccine would also be beneficial to farmed deer where M. bovis represents a serious threat to trade and productivity.

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