Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a neurological disease that affects mainly deer, has spread throughout West Virginia. White-tail deer at Front Royal, the northern boundary of Shenandoah Park have been reported to contracting the disease. CWD is progressing rapidly, since last reported 23 miles away from the site in 2009.
What is Chronic Wasting Disease?
CWD is a transmissible, neurological disease. It is most commonly found among deer and elk in north America. The infected animals experience extreme weight loss, constant feeding and drinking, and constant urination. The disease is fatal to those who contract it and is very easily transmitted.
How is Chronic Wasting Disease transmitted?
There are several different ways in which CWD can be transmitted. Bodily secretions, such as saliva, feces, and urination is one of the most common ways an animal could contract the disease. However, the disease has become so widespread throughout the Northern United States due to humans transporting infected animals.
How has West Virginia been affected by Chronic Wasting Disease?
Shenandoah Park was just the latest park to have been affected by CWD. The state has found that 162 white-tail deer have been infected with CWD. Several environmental agencies have teamed up to monitor the animals infected and stop the spread of this disease. After testing over 15,000 deer, the labs showed that only 159 deer showed signs of CWD.
Although this number seems relatively small, the results are very alarming. The number represents a direct threat to the white-tail deer, one of the biggest game for West Virginia hunting.
In 2014, the white-tail harvest decreased 34% over the past five years, ranking in 34th over the past 74 years, according to West Virginia’s Division of Natural Resources. Unfortunately, CWD could impact hunting for the next several years. WVDNR predicts that 2015 will continue to decline.
Should hunters be concerned?
As of now, studies show that humans do not run the risk of contracting the disease. However, that does not mean that hunters should be exposing themselves to animals that have contracted CWD. While there are no confirmed cases of animals transmitting the disease to humans, hunters can still be harmed from the infection.
How can hunters stay safe and healthy?
The Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance offers several suggestions to hunters so they can hunt without fear. Hunters are “encouraged” to not eat venison meat that is thought to be diseased (I feel like it’s weird that hunters have to be encouraged–don’t eat sick deer meat, just don’t do it). The alliance also recommends that hunters take the necessary and proper precautions when field dressing and processing. These precautions include:
- Wear latex or rubber gloves when field dressing your deer, and wash your hands and tools thoroughly after completing this process.
- Bone out the meat from your deer, do not saw through bone, avoid cutting through the brain or spinal cord and minimize the handling of brain and spinal tissues. If you remove the skull cap to save the antlers, use a saw dedicated for only that purpose and dispose of saw blades in a landfill with your other household garbage.
- Thoroughly clean and sanitize knives, equipment and work areas with household bleach solution after processing your deer.
- Place unwanted carcass materials (e.g., bones, trimmings, etc.) in a strong garbage bag, and dispose of this material in a landfill with your other household garbage.
- Avoid eating the brain, spinal cord, eyes, lymph nodes, spleen and tonsils of harvested deer. [Note that normal field dressing combined with de-boning the carcass removes most, if not all, these body parts. Cutting away all fatty tissue removes the remaining lymph nodes.]
WVDNR has banned baiting and feeding deer, as well as transporting game. Baiting is a popular technique used widely among hunters in which they leave food is strategic locations in order to lure the game to an open area. The division also banned the public from feeding wildlife statewide. Hunters are also prohibited from moving meat or parts beyond the containment area. With these measures, WVDNR hopes to stop the spread of this endemic.