Chronic Wasting Disease Not a Threat to People, Livestock

By MUNews

First posted on 03-09-2010

Missouri hunters with venison in their freezers shouldn’t worry, despite the discovery of chronic wasting disease in a captive deer in the northeastern part of the state. So far, no cases of CWD have been found in the Missouri’s free-ranging deer population.

“With the assistance of hunters, the Missouri Department of Conservation has tested more than 24,000 free-ranging deer for CWD from all portions of the state since 2002 with no cases found,” said Bob Pierce, University of Missouri Extension wildlife specialist.

“Fortunately, there is no evidence that CWD can infect people,” he said.

“There’s a species-specific barrier that prevents CWD from spreading to humans,” said Jason Sumners, deer biologist for the Conservation Department. CWD also appears to pose little or no threat to cattle and other livestock, he added.

On Feb. 25, state officials reported that a captive deer at a Linn County farm had tested positive for CWD, a degenerative brain disease found in deer, moose and elk. The state has quarantined the farm and will be testing wild deer in the surrounding area for CWD, Sumners said.

More than a dozen states and two Canadian provinces have documented CWD in deer or elk.

Chronic wasting disease belongs to a group of diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. Other TSEs include bovine spongiform encephalopathy, sometimes called “mad cow disease.” A brain-wasting disease in humans has been linked to eating BSE-infected beef, but researchers have found no evidence that infected deer pose a similar threat to people.

“However, you want to err on the side of caution,” Sumners said.

The Missouri Department of Conservation and the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance advise hunters and others involved in harvesting and processing deer to take some basic precautions:

*  Don’t harvest animals that are emaciated, behaving strangely or obviously sick.

* Wear protective gloves when field-dressing deer.

* Bone out the meat from your animal. Don’t saw through bone; avoid cutting through the brain or spinal cord.

* Minimize handling of brain and spinal tissues.

* Wash hands and instruments thoroughly after field dressing is completed.

* Avoid eating brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils and lymph nodes of harvested animals.

Last year the Missouri Conservation Commission approved regulations aimed at curbing CWD. The new rules, which went into effect March 1, prohibit hunters from importing deer, elk or moose carcasses or carcass parts, except for quarters without the spinal column or head attached; boned meat; skulls cleaned of all tissue; upper canine teeth; and finished taxidermy mounts.

Those who are unable to process an animal before entering the state must notify the Conservation Department within 24 hours of entry and take the carcass to a licensed meat processor or taxidermist within 72 hours.

CWD can spread through natural movement of wild deer and elk or through the shipment of harvested or captive deer or elk, Pierce said.

“Once the disease becomes established in an area, it can spread quickly, primarily through animal-to-animal contact but also through soil-to-animal contact,” he said.

Symptoms of CWD in deer or elk include changes in their natural behavior, extreme weight loss, excessive salivation, stumbling and tremors.

The disease appears to be always fatal, but it can take months or years before symptoms appear.

To report a sighting of a sick deer, contact a Missouri Department of Conservation regional office.