Mycobacterium bovis vs. Mycobacterium tuberculosis

What's the Difference?

Mycobacterium bovis and Mycobacterium tuberculosis are both species of bacteria belonging to the Mycobacterium genus. However, they differ in their pathogenicity and host range. Mycobacterium bovis primarily infects cattle but can also infect other animals, including humans, through consumption of contaminated dairy products or close contact with infected animals. On the other hand, Mycobacterium tuberculosis is the causative agent of tuberculosis in humans and is primarily transmitted through respiratory droplets from person to person. Both bacteria share similar characteristics, such as their acid-fast staining properties and the ability to cause chronic infections, but their specific host preferences and modes of transmission set them apart.


AttributeMycobacterium bovisMycobacterium tuberculosis
Scientific NameMycobacterium bovisMycobacterium tuberculosis
Common NameBovine tuberculosisTuberculosis
HostsCattle, humans, other mammalsHumans, other mammals
TransmissionDirect contact, ingestion of contaminated food or waterAirborne droplets, close contact
DiseaseTuberculosis in animals and humansTuberculosis in humans
PrevalenceMore common in animals, less common in humansMore common in humans, less common in animals
VaccineBCG vaccine available for animals, not commonly used in humansBCG vaccine available for humans
Drug ResistanceSome strains may be resistant to certain antibioticsSome strains may be resistant to certain antibiotics

Further Detail


Mycobacterium bovis and Mycobacterium tuberculosis are two closely related species of bacteria that belong to the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex. These bacteria are responsible for causing tuberculosis (TB) in humans and animals. While they share many similarities, there are also distinct differences between the two species in terms of their epidemiology, host range, pathogenicity, and transmission.


Mycobacterium tuberculosis is the primary causative agent of human tuberculosis, which is a major global health concern. It is estimated that around one-third of the world's population is infected with M. tuberculosis, with approximately 10 million people developing active TB disease each year. On the other hand, Mycobacterium bovis primarily affects animals, particularly cattle, but can also infect humans. Bovine tuberculosis caused by M. bovis is a significant economic burden for the livestock industry and poses a zoonotic risk to humans who come into contact with infected animals or consume contaminated dairy products.

Host Range

Mycobacterium tuberculosis is highly adapted to infect and cause disease in humans. It primarily targets the respiratory system, particularly the lungs, and can spread from person to person through the inhalation of infectious droplets expelled by individuals with active TB. In contrast, Mycobacterium bovis has a broader host range and can infect a wide variety of mammals, including cattle, deer, badgers, and even humans. The transmission of M. bovis to humans usually occurs through direct contact with infected animals or consumption of unpasteurized dairy products.


Both Mycobacterium bovis and Mycobacterium tuberculosis are highly pathogenic bacteria that can cause severe disease in their respective hosts. M. tuberculosis primarily affects the lungs and can lead to symptoms such as persistent cough, chest pain, weight loss, and fatigue. If left untreated, it can progress to disseminated or extrapulmonary TB, affecting other organs and systems in the body. M. bovis, on the other hand, primarily causes tuberculosis in animals, but it can also infect humans. In humans, M. bovis infection often presents as extrapulmonary TB, affecting sites such as lymph nodes, bones, and the central nervous system.


The transmission dynamics of Mycobacterium bovis and Mycobacterium tuberculosis differ due to their distinct host preferences. M. tuberculosis is primarily transmitted from person to person through the inhalation of infectious respiratory droplets expelled by individuals with active pulmonary TB. It is considered a contagious disease, especially in crowded or poorly ventilated environments. M. bovis, on the other hand, is primarily transmitted through direct contact with infected animals or consumption of contaminated animal products. This zoonotic transmission route is particularly relevant in regions where bovine tuberculosis is prevalent and where unpasteurized dairy products are consumed.


The diagnosis of Mycobacterium bovis and Mycobacterium tuberculosis infections relies on similar laboratory techniques, including acid-fast staining, culture, and molecular methods such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR). However, there are specific tests that can differentiate between the two species. For instance, the niacin test is used to differentiate M. tuberculosis, which is niacin-positive, from M. bovis, which is niacin-negative. Additionally, the presence of the RD9 region, absent in M. bovis, can be detected using PCR-based assays to confirm the identification of M. tuberculosis.

Treatment and Drug Resistance

The treatment of Mycobacterium bovis and Mycobacterium tuberculosis infections involves the use of similar antibiotics, such as isoniazid, rifampicin, ethambutol, and pyrazinamide. However, drug resistance is a significant concern, particularly for M. tuberculosis. The emergence of multidrug-resistant (MDR) and extensively drug-resistant (XDR) strains of M. tuberculosis has complicated the management of TB worldwide. In contrast, drug resistance in M. bovis is less common, but it can still occur, leading to challenges in the treatment of bovine tuberculosis.

Prevention and Control

Preventing the transmission of Mycobacterium bovis and Mycobacterium tuberculosis requires different strategies due to their distinct modes of transmission. The prevention of M. tuberculosis transmission relies on early detection and treatment of active cases, contact tracing, and implementation of infection control measures in healthcare settings. Vaccination with the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine can also provide some protection against M. tuberculosis infection, although its efficacy varies. In the case of M. bovis, control measures focus on the identification and culling of infected animals, implementation of biosecurity measures in livestock farms, and pasteurization of dairy products to prevent human exposure.


Mycobacterium bovis and Mycobacterium tuberculosis are closely related bacteria that cause tuberculosis in animals and humans, respectively. While they share similarities in terms of their pathogenicity and diagnostic methods, they differ in their host range, epidemiology, and transmission dynamics. Understanding these differences is crucial for the development of effective prevention and control strategies to combat these significant public health and veterinary challenges.

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