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Is clostridium zoonotic?

Species: Other
Breed: Whitetail deer
Age: Less than 3 mon
Clostridium Type A has been known to cause sudden death in healthy deer but it has been previously sporadic and not very common. Humans are also susceptible to this disease too as I understand. My brother has lost about 70 deer in the last week to this disorder and we are currently caring for about 50 fawns by bottle feeding and as required wiping them to stimulate bowel movements. Can this disorder be passed from sick fawns to the treating humans?

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Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Thank you for an interesting question. I have to preface my answer by saying that I primarily work with dogs, cats and pocket pets. Deer are definitely not my area of expertise. Still, I was able to do some research for you.

There are different types of Clostridium. You can have Clostridium perfringens or Clostridium difficile. And then each of these can have subtypes, one of which is "A".

I found this article that talked about whether or not clostridium is contagious to people.. The article starts off by saying that in most cases, clostridium is not zoonotic (i.e. it is not contagious). But, some types of clostridium that produce something called enterotoxins can be contagious to people. Clostridium perfringens CAN produce enterotoxins. It appears from reading this article though that when it is transmitted to humans it is from eating the deer meat. It doesn't appear that handling the deer or their bowel movements is dangerous to people. (Still, it's a good idea to keep up good hygiene.)


I found a reference on Veterinary Information Network where vets were discussing whether a dog with Clostridium Perfringens A (alpha toxin) was contagious to people. A specialist answered the question saying that we still don't know for sure whether this type of clostridium is contagious from animals to people but that the general consensus was that there probably isn't any danger.

I also found reference to Clostridium difficile type A in horses but the only concern for transmission to humans was again, if the meat was being eaten.

I think that the best thing your brother can do is speak to his doctor about this question. Or, another possibility is to contact your local public health department and they can tell you what the risk is.

From what I have read, it appears that the risk is low.

Hope that helps and I hope that the deer all recover soon!

Dr. Marie.



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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

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