Skip to main content Skip to navigation
Washington State University Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee

Zoonoses Associated with Deer

This document provides information on various diseases that can be passed from deer, moose, elk and caribou to humans. Many times these diseases do not make the animal appear sick but can cause serious illness in humans. Persons with specific medical conditions such as an immunodeficiency and pregnancy may be at higher risk of developing disease or complications from a zoonotic disease and should consult with their physician before working with deer. The diseases associated with deer include Q fever, chlamydiosis, leptospirosis, campylobacterosis, salmonellosis, cryptosporidiosis, and giardiasis.

 

Potential zoonoses

Tuberculosis and brucellosis are potential zoonoses in deer but due to a federal eradication program for Mycobacterium bovis, Brucella abortus and Brucella melitensis in cattle and captive deer, these diseases are uncommon in the United States. Tuberculosis is present in certain populations of white-tail deer in Michigan and brucellosis is present in elk and bison in the greater Yellowstone area of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. Captive deer populations are subject to state and federal tuberculosis and brucellosis control measures. Chronic wasting disease is a prion disease in deer that causes a spongiform encephalitis similar to mad cow disease in cattle. It is not present in the Pacific Northwest and it has not been shown to infect people.

 

Q fever and leprospirosis

Q fever is a bacterial infection associated with abortion in pregnant cattle, sheep, goats and people. The agent of Q fever, Coxiella burnetti may also be carried by deer, moose and elk and may or may not result in disease. There is a high concentration of C. burnetti at the time that the animals give birth, so particular care needs to be used in handling new born animals, placental tissues and birth fluids. Q fever can be acquired by direct contact with placental membranes and fetuses, and by aerosol of birth fluids from infected animals.

Leptospirosis causes reproductive failure, anemia, liver and kidney disease in ruminants and is typically shed in the urine of infected animals. People acquire the infection by oral ingestion and contact with contaminated urine, placenta, and fetal tissues. The organism can infect hosts through abraded skin. Salmonellosis, campylobacterosis, listeriosis, yersiniosis, cryptosporidiosis are giardiasis are acquired by contact and accidental oral ingestion of fecal material from infected animals. Animals infected with these diseases typically have diarrhea but some animals may show no symptoms of disease. Any animal with diarrhea should be suspect of having a zoonotic disease.

 

Transmission of zoonotic diseases from animals

Transmission of zoonotic diseases from animals is primarily by direct contact, contact with contaminated bedding or materials, oral ingestion or inhalation of aerosolized fluids. We can protect ourselves from most diseases by using the following procedures:

  • Handle animals safely to avoid injury.
  • Do not eat, drink, apply makeup or use tobacco products while handling animals or in animal housing areas.
  • Wear gloves when handling ill animals, animal tissues, body fluids and waste and wash hands after contact.
  • Wear respiratory protection when appropriate.
  • Wear dedicated protective clothing such as a coat or coveralls and shoe-covers or boots when handling animals. Launder the soiled clothing separate from your personal clothes and preferably at the animal facility.
  • Keep animal areas clean and disinfect equipment after using it on animals or in animal areas.

Most importantly, familiarize yourself about the animals that you will be working with and the potential zoonotic diseases associated with each species. If at any time, you suspect that you have acquired a zoonotic disease, inform your supervisor and seek medical care.

 

If you have further questions call:

Mike Kluzik at 335-9553, email: mkluzik@wsu.edu

Nina Woodford at 335-6246, email: nwoodford@wsu.edu

IACUC Coordinator at 335-7951, email: iacuc@wsu.edu