Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) The Facts
The following are answers to frequently asked questions about CWD, which has affected thousands of both wild and farm-raised deer and elk.
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CWD is an untreatable, fatal neurological disease found in deer and elk in certain geographical locations in North America. The disease belongs to a family of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) or prion diseases. The disease attacks the brain and neural tissue of infected deer and elk.
While CWD is similar to mad cow disease in cattle and scrapie in sheep, there is no known relationship between CWD and any other TSEs of animals or people. TSEs are believed to be caused by a pathogen called a prion. The prions causing each disease differ.
Infected animals may incubate the disease for three years or longer before they exhibit clinical signs. In the advanced states animals have no fear of human. since the disease develops slowly over months or years, herds must be monitored for at least 5 years before they are considered "free" of CWD.
Although the exact mechanism is not known, CWD is believed to be spread by the agent responsible both by direct animal-to-animal contact and indirectly via the soil or other contact surfaces. It is thought that the most common mode of transmission from an infected animal is via saliva, feces, and urine.
CWD was first seen in captive mule deer in 1967 at the Colorado Division of Wildlife research in Fort Collins. CWD is known to infect free-ranging deer and elk in NE Colorado and free-ranging deer in western Colorado, southern Wyoming, western Nebraska, South Dakota, Wisconsin, New Mexico and Saskatchewan.
It has been diagnosed in elk in game ranches in Colorado, Nebraska, south Dakota, Montana, Oklahoma, Kansas, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Epidemiologists with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and epidemiologists at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment who have studied CWD found no evidence the disease poses a risk to humans or domestic animals.
More than 16 years of monitoring in infected areas in Colorado has found no disease in people or cattle living there. The World Health Organization (WHO) has likewise said there is no scientific evidence CWD can infect humans. However, as a precaution WHO also said no part of a deer or elk with evidence of CWD should be consumed by people or other animals.
Health officials advise hunters not to consume meat from animals known to be infected with the disease. Boning out meat is recommended. Hunters should take simple precautions such as wearing latex gloves when field dressing carcasses, minimize handling of brain and spinal tissues, wash hands and instrument thoroughly after field dressing is completed, avoid consuming brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils, and lymph nodes of harvested animals.
If you see an emaciated or sick-looking deer, do not shoot it. Rather, note the location and notify a Conservation Department official. In the rare event than an emaciated or otherwise unhealthy deer is harvested, contact a Conservation Department Official.
Because the brain is the organ affected by the disease, infected animals begin to lose bodily functions and display abnormal behavior such as staggering or standing with very poor posture.
Animals may have an exaggerated wide posture, or may carry the head and ears lowered. Infected animals become very emaciated (thus "wasting" disease) and will appear in poor body condition.
Infected animals will also often stand near water and will consume large amounts of water. Drooling or excessive salivation may be apparent. CWD is ALWAYS fatal to the infected animal.
Accurately document the location of the animal and immediately contact your Conservation Department. Do not attempt to touch, disturb, kill, or remove the animal.
Deer meat cannot be tested - only brain and neural and lymph node tissue can be tested to detect the presence of CWD. There is no means of testing deer tissue samples for CWD at present.
There is strong evidence to suggest that CWD is caused by abnormally shaped proteins called prions.
Research to date indicates that the prions accumulate only in the brain, eyes, spinal cord, lymph nodes, tonsils, and spleen.
Based on these findings, hunters should bone out their meat and consume only muscle tissue from harvested animals.
Missouri officials have restricted importation of live deer and elk into the state.
In other states with captive animals known to have or have been exposed to CWD, management is concentrating on quarantining or depopulating captive or free-ranging animals in the affected area.
In some cases around captive populations, double fencing is recommended to prevent direct contact between captive and wild animals.
In wild populations, the management option is reduction of the density of animals in the infected area to slow the transmission of the disease by selective culling of animals suspected to have been directly exposed to the disease.
In Colorado and Wisconsin, large numbers of animals are being killed to reduce density of animals and thus slow the transmission of the disease.
There is still a large need for research on the disease as many questions go unanswered. There is also a need for increased funding to support additional laboratories for testing animals for the disease.
Hunters should be vigilant for deer or elk that display abnormal behavior, such as staggering or standing with very poor posture.
Animals may have an exaggerated wide posture, or may carry the head and ears lowered. Infected animals become very emaciated and will appear in poor condition.
Infected animals will often consume large amounts of water and drooling or excessive salivation may be noticed.
Report any suspected cases of CWD to the proper authorities immediately.
Here are some of the things Jackson Frozen Food Locker and other deer meat processors are doing about CWD.
Rubber gloves are worn while handling and processing deer and elk.
We try to avoid coming in contact with brain or spinal cord tissue.
When a customer insists on the antlers, we separate these with a minimum of the skull being "opened".
We dispose of the head, eyes, spleen etc. with the proper Rendering Companies
When we are in doubt about the appearance of a particular brought in to our plant, we will contact the Department of Agriculture for testing
Check out our Deer Charts page with photo's and diagrams of how to cut up your deer the proper way!
Last Updated - Monday, December 25, 2017 10:37 PM