Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a fatal neurological disease of mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk (or “wapiti”), moose, and reindeer. CWD has so far been found in 24 states and 2 Canadian provinces. CWD is caused by abnormal infectious proteins called prions. Prions can pass between deer through saliva, feces, urine, and through water or soil contaminated with prions.
Most cases of CWD occur in adult animals; the youngest animal diagnosed with natural CWD was 17 months. The disease is progressive and always fatal. The first signs are difficulties in movement. The most obvious and consistent clinical sign of CWD is weight loss over time. Behavioral changes also occur in the majority of cases, including decreased interactions with other animals, listlessness, lowering of the head, tremors, repetitive walking in set patterns, and nervousness. Excessive salivation and grinding of the teeth also are observed. Most deer show increased drinking and urination; the increased drinking and salivation may contribute to the spread of the disease.
CWD is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE). As of 2016, CWD had only been found in members of the deer family. First recognized as a clinical “wasting” syndrome in 1967 in mule deer in a wildlife research facility in northern Colorado, USA, it was identified as a TSE in 1978 and has spread to free-ranging and captive populations in 23 US states and two Canadian provinces. CWD is typified by chronic weight loss leading to death. No relationship is known between CWD and any other TSE of animals or people. TSE is a reaction of the dreaded BSE (Bovine spongiform encephalitis) or “Mad Cow Disease.”
Although reports in the popular press have been made of humans being affected by CWD, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests, “[m]ore epidemiologic and laboratory studies are needed to monitor the possibility of such transmissions”. However, they went on to warn, “[a]s a precaution, hunters should avoid eating deer and elk tissues known to harbor the CWD agent (e.g., brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils, lymph nodes) from areas where CWD has been identified”. It is feared that this disease is about to pass to humans.
Hunters across America are responding responsibly (AS WE KNEW THEY WOULD!) to calls to take kills to Deer Check Stations. Each state has different rules, but many now require you to take the deer to a Check Station. What parts of the deer you take away from the Stations may also be subject to rules. In addition, to prevent herds gathering, hunters and landowners in some areas can no longer use supplemental feed or distribute minerals, nor can they use urine lures.
There has been a reported case of a hamster picking up the prions form infected urine through straw placed in its cage. This is not a disease we want passing to humans. Hunters and landowners are the front line in the battle against this devastating and incurable disease. There’s a good article here if you want more information.
And here’s a very informative video by a great outdoorsman, deer farmer and Patriot.