By Steve Sorensen
Here’s the Lowdown on Deer Diseases
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is much different from EHD. CWD can be much more devastating and when it hits, its effects can last much, much longer. Those two statements rest on the fact that the prion that causes the disease lasts almost indefinitely.
CWD belongs to a class of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE). In that family of diseases is mad cow disease (big news among cattle herds in England a few years ago), and scrapie in sheep. Like mad cow and scrapie, CWD is a disease of the nervous system, and is caused by something you may not have heard of – prions.
- What’s a prion? The word “prion” is a combination of the words “protein” and “infection.” In laymen’s terms a prion is an infectious, mutated protein. The problem is that a prion can’t be killed. That’s because it’s not alive. It’s simply a protein, and when it infects an animal the animal develops sponge-like holes in its nerve tissue.
- How are prions transmitted? Current data suggests that CWD may be communicable both directly through animal to animal contact (for example, through saliva while deer are grooming one another) and indirectly from an environment contaminated with the CWD prion (for example, through feces and urine of infected deer). It’s unaffected by cold weather, and deer can’t be stopped from doing the things that transmit the disease.
- What animals get CWD? CWD affects cervids (antlered animals that chew their cud), which includes whitetails, mule deer, elk and moose, by creating a network of lesions in neural tissue (brain, spinal column, etc.) Ultimately the brain develops holes and acquires a sponge-like texture. It may take months or years for CWD to develop, and it can’t be diagnosed in a living animal. CWD is untreatable and universally fatal.
- How long has CWD been around? Way back in 1967, CWD was first identified in captive mule deer in Fort Collins, Colorado at the Colorado Division of Wildlife, Foothills Wildlife Research Facility. It wasn’t until 1981 that CWD was found in a wild animal, an elk also in Colorado, marking the first documented case of CWD in a wild cervid. The first documented case in whitetails occurred in 2001 when South Dakota discovered CWD in wild whitetail deer. Since then it has spread to other states and Canadian provinces.
- Will CWD reach epidemic proportions? No one knows, but since biologists first learned about it in 1967, every state with deer, elk or moose has taken every step possible to address it. And it’s serious enough that every hunter should know how to deal with it, and every hunter should seek information about how the state or province he’s hunting in is trying to keep it from spreading.
- Do hunters need to worry about CWD in the deer or elk they kill? Although humans have their own form of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, biologists have found no evidence that CWD is transmissible to humans. That’s the good news. But deer hunters may have to deal with it in the animals they harvest.
- Where can a hunter get reliable information? Fortunately, we live in a day when information is readily available through the Internet, and most hunters can easily research the rules for the areas they hunt. Virtually every state’s game agency has everything you need to know on its website. Two other websites with up-to-date information are www.knowcwd.com, and www.cwd-info.org.
About Steve Sorensen
Outdoor writer and speaker Steve Sorensen writes an award-winning newspaper column called The Everyday Hunter®, and he has something to do with most of the content on the Havalon Sportsman’s Post. He has also published articles in Deer & Deer Hunting, Outdoor Life, and many other top magazines across the USA. Invite Steve to speak at your next sportsman’s event, and follow him at www.EverydayHunter.com.[hs_action id=”7771″]
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