Michigan DNR Announces Field Trial for the Study of Vaccinating Deer Against Bovine Tuberculosis

Michigan DNR Announces Field Trial for the Study of Vaccinating Deer Against Bovine Tuberculosis

A field study is underway in Alpena County, Michigan, to evaluate the delivery of an oral bovine tuberculosis (bTB) vaccine for wild deer. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is collaborating with Michigan State University (MSU) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service-Wildlife Services (USDA-WS) to explore the development of a new, future tool to manage bTB, which could help to further protect wildlife, livestock, and the public from this disease.

Bovine tuberculosis is an infectious, zoonotic disease affecting both humans and animals. The disease is slow-growing and is primarily spread through respiratory secretions when infected animals expose uninfected animals by nose-to-nose contact or contaminate shared feed and water. In Michigan’s bTB area (which includes Alcona, Alpena, Montmorency, Oscoda, and Presque Isle counties), the disease is established in the deer population, and it can be transmitted between deer and cattle.

Michigan has been working toward the eradication of bTB in deer for 30 years, and significant progress has been made by the DNR and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) in reducing the prevalence of the disease and protecting deer and cattle health. However, while the level of disease in wild deer is low, it has remained steady for over a decade, prompting the need for new tools. A unified and sustained approach to protecting human, wildlife, and livestock health is critical to further progress toward bTB eradication.

In 2016, researchers collaborated with the DNR to begin evaluating how wild deer could be vaccinated against bTB. This led to a multipart study starting in 2020 investigating a method to potentially deliver an effective oral bTB vaccine to deer in the bTB area.

Part 1: Spatial modeling to examine factors influencing disease spread and to improve understanding of how tools, such as harvest and vaccination, can aid in reducing or eliminating bTB in wild deer.

Part 2: Penned deer trials that demonstrated orally vaccinating deer is feasible.

With Parts 1 and 2 completed, Part 3, the field trial portion of the study, is now underway. From late February through April 2024, the USDA-WS is placing vaccine delivery units (VDUs) at selected sites in Alpena County to evaluate the ability to deliver the vaccine to wild deer. With landowner consent, approximately 15 sites are being used for this field trial, focusing in the area of Green West, Green East, Wilson West, Wilson East, and Ossineke West townships.

VDUs are systematically placed in crop fields where USDA-WS has determined deer are present. Vaccine-laden VDUs are left out for up to two days; any units left unconsumed will be recovered. Sites are regularly being monitored with cameras and by USDA and MSU personnel. The VDUs consist of cubes of shredded alfalfa and molasses that house an edible sphere, encapsulating the liquid vaccine.

Several weeks following VDU deployment, USDA-WS will harvest deer under DNR-issued deer permits from the trial sites and collect samples, which will be analyzed by the State of Michigan and USDA. Conducted under the guidance of a Michigan licensed veterinarian and approved by the USDA, this field trial is the next step in determining the practicality and viability of oral bTB vaccination of wild deer.

The DNR will conduct a full evaluation of this initial study before undertaking any additional field trials. The public will be notified if further trials are initiated.

For more information regarding this field trial, visit Michigan.gov/BovineTB.

April 16, 2024