Via NPR's Goats and Soda blog: The Kind Of TB That Doesn't Get Much Attention: You Catch It From Animals. Excerpt:
Excruciating chest pain. Night sweats so severe he could ring out his sheets in the morning. A worsening cough. Getting out of breath when he walked his dogs — or tried to complete his regular 6-mile run.
Those were some of the symptoms that veterinarian Jonathan Cranston was feeling six weeks after returning home to England from a trip to South Africa, where he'd been involved in a project that examined the stress level of wildebeests.
At first he blamed the night sweats on his mattress. British vet Jonathan Cranston poses with a wildebeest in South Africa.
"It was getting slightly hotter in England, I'd just gotten a new mattress and I thought the mattress wasn't breathing — so much so that I was going to ring up the company and ask if I could send it back," the 35-year-old says, acknowledging how ridiculous the thought was in hindsight.
Turns out it was probably the wildebeests who were responsible for his symptoms. Wildebeests are one of 21 animal species in South Africa's Kruger National Park known to carry zoonotic tuberculosis. (A zoonotic disease can be transmitted from animals to humans.) And zoonotic TB is what Cranston had.
But it took a while for doctors to make the diagnosis — even though they'd drained 10 cups of fluid next to one of his lungs. They viewed Cranston as an unlikely candidate for TB. He was young and healthy and didn't have risk factors — like serving time in an overcrowded prison. The doctors figured he just had "a really nasty pneumonia," he says.
Each year, some 149,000 people come down with zoonotic TB. It's caused by Mycobacterium bovis rather than Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the usual culprit for TB in humans.
Zoonotic TB can affect any warm-blooded animal but is most frequently found in livestock and wild animals. It's also been linked to circus animals like elephants because they live in close confinement. Dogs and cats rarely get it, so pet owners don't need to worry much. But farmers, vets, slaughterhouse workers and butchers are at risk. Animals can not only carry the disease but can be sickened by it as well.
The most common routes of transmission are through unpasteurized milk, raw or undercooked meat, airborne infection and direct contact with infected animals. That's different than the TB we're familiar with, which spreads from human to human when a person infected coughs, speaks or sings.
The disease, which kills 13,000 people every year, is only now beginning to gain attention. "If we're going to end TB, we need to deal with this very neglected area," says Dr. Paula Fujiwara, scientific director of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease.