Outdoor Corner: Chronic Wasting Disease rears its ugly head again
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been in the news a lot lately. If you're not an avid deer hunter, chances are you don't know all that much about it. It's related to the "mad cow" disease that affects cows in the same manner. It infects the brain and spinal cord of the deer family.
CWD is a fatal neurodegenerative disease that is spread through contact with infected saliva, blood, urine, and feces from live or dead deer. It also transmits through contact with infectious material in the soil, food, and water. So, if a deer dies from CWD and its body decomposes naturally, the area where it dies can transmit to a living animal that might eat or drink from that area.
The disease hasn't been detected in Louisiana as of this date, but a third deer in Mississippi has tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD) this year, according to the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks (MDWFP). The 2-year-old doe was harvested in Issaquena County this month.
It was killed six miles north of where the first deer with CWD was discovered Jan. 25, 2018. The 4-year-old buck that tested positive for CWD in January was found only a few miles from the Louisiana border on the east side of the Mississippi River.
The second positive deer was detected in October in Pontotoc County, Mississippi, which is located in the northeast part of the state and approximately 130 miles northeast of thecases in Issaquena County.
CWD has been found in 25 states, including Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi. Following the discovery of the first diseased deer in Mississippi the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) sampled 300 deer within a designated buffer zone, which is within 25 miles of the index case in Issaquena County and included East Carroll, Madison, and Tensas parishes. CWD was not detected in any of the sampled deer.
The recent discoveries in Mississippi have highlighted the importance of additional monitoring by LDWF while incorporating preventative measures to stem the potential spread of the disease. Proper handling of deer carcasses after harvest can help in preventing further spread of the disease.
Louisiana is one of 41 states that have instituted cervid carcass importation bans prohibiting the importation of high risk parts. Along with the current moratorium on live importation of captive deer, these measures provide the best defense against potential disease introduction and spread.
The carcass ban includes animals of the family Cervidae, including but not limited to white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, moose, caribou, fallow deer, axis deer, sika deer, red deer and reindeer.
Cervids harvested in other states may not be transported into Louisiana, except for deboned meat, quarters with no part of the head or spinal column, meat that is cut and packaged, clean skulls with antlers, capes, cleaned cervid teeth, and finished taxidermy products.
This may seem a little over the top but the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is doing yeoman's work trying its best to keep CWD out because if it ever gets here, it can't be eradicated. Once a population of deer is infected, no state has ever stopped the spread. They've done a great job so far and we need to do all we can to help.
Recommended deer carcass disposal includes burial on site where harvested, disposal at approved landfills through official waste collection companies, or simply leaving the deer carcass on the property in which it was harvested after the meat has been removed. This is recommended for all deer harvested regardless of state of origin.
Cervid carcass regulations have proven necessary in two cases this year. CWD infected deer from Texas and Arkansas were harvested by Louisiana hunters this year. In both cases the hunters were notified by the respective state, and the meat was incinerated by LDWF to avoid potential spread.
The ash was then bagged and disposed of in an approved landfill. The fact that two known CWD deer were harvested by Louisiana hunters is significant because only a very small percentage of harvested deer are tested for the disease.
The two cases highlight the importance of regulations promoting best management practices that reduce the potential spread of the disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) there is no evidence that CWD can infect humans. However, it is strongly recommended that people do not consume venison from known CWD positive animals.
Deer infected with CWD can spread the disease even before symptoms develop. It can take one to two years for infected animals to become symptomatic. When symptoms appear they can include emaciation, lethargy, abnormal behavior and loss of bodily functions. Other signs include excessive salivation, loss of appetite, progressive weight loss, excessive thirst and urination, teeth grinding, and drooping ears.
Symptomatic deer should be reported to the nearest LDWF Field Office. Deer hunters who would like to have their harvest tested may contact LDWF Field Offices throughout the state. Those offices can take samples during business hours from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Please contact the office prior to your hunt to receive information on proper handling of your deer harvest for appropriate sampling.
LDWF continues cooperative discussions with other state and federal agencies in the fight against CWD and to prevent it from entering the state. Go to http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/hunting/CWD for more information on CWD.
Lyle Johnson is a free-lance writer, co-host of Ascension Outdoors TV and Curator of the Louisiana State Fish Records. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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