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By: Dr. Dave Samuel

Nebraska just announced the finding of Chronic Wasting Disease in several counties in the center of the state. This shows the continued spread from western Nebraska. So what you say, “It’s obvious that CWD can’t spread to humans and it sure doesn’t seem to be hurting our deer herds.”

Maybe. Maybe on both counts. The release of information showing the spread of CWD in Nebraska (where I hunt every fall in the eastern part of the state) caused me to check out the website, transmissiblespongiformencephalopathy.blogspot.com/. That blog lists a lot of other website with tons of information on CWD. CWD is not spread by bacteria but rather by prions that invade and destroy the brain. One very similar disease of humans is Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease. This blog presents a lot of information on that disease relative to whether humans can get CWD from diseased deer or elk.

Bottom line is that we don’t know a lot about prions. We do know that prions survive in soil for years. We know that deer can be placed in an area where CWD lived and after being removed for over a year, deer placed there again get CWD.

We don’t know how long prions stay viable in the soil. My guess is . . . many, many years. Maybe decades. We know that deer have prions in nervous tissue but also in lymph tissue and even muscles. We know that prions are spread via saliva and urine. (In fact that is why many states are concerned about baiting for deer.) We don’t think prions can be spread via eating deer meat but we aren’t positive. Scary because another prion disease ‘mad cow disease’ can be spread from cows to humans leading to death.

I don’t want to play the ‘what if’ game, but ‘what if’ one hunter got CWD from eating deer meat and that hunter died? Let’s not go there. The ramifications are beyond comprehension.

Another aspect of this problem is found on the above website as well as Chronic-wasting-disease.blogspot.com. I invite you to go to this website and after you peruse it you will see the relationship of CWD and deer farms. They discuss the Almond deer farm in Wisconsin. A buck shot there in 2002 had CWD and this led to all deer there being killed in 2006. Sixty of the 76 deer killed were CWD positive. In order to keep control of this situation and make sure the fence separating the contaminated farm from wild deer remained intact, the DNR bought the farm in 2011. Remember, this farm probably has CWD prions in the soil, so the potential for spread to wild deer is real. However, 1200 deer outside the farm have been tested and no CWD was found. The DNR wants to make sure the fences stay intact, so they bought it and will do research on CWD there. Seems like a good idea.

A total decontamination of the farm was conducted, but there is no way to know whether prions are still in the soil. They probably are. All timber along the fence is being cut to protect the fence. A second fence 12 feet from the first is being constructed. Apparently the Wisconsin DNR is very concerned about the spread of CWD.

If baiting for deer has been shown to exacerbate the spread of CWD then why do we find baiting being legalized in more and more states? The reason is simple. Hunters want baiting and they apply political pressure to keep baiting if they have it or to get baiting if they do not have it. The DNR in my home state of West Virginia would love to stop baiting for deer to prevent, or slow the spread of CWD from the eastern panhandle of the state, but the hunters won’t let that happen. A political hot potato.

Again, check out the above two web sites then tell me that CWD is not a potential problem for hunters and deer. This ain’t your average disease. So far, humans eating venison are OK and so far deer herds are OK too. But packing large numbers of deer in small areas is an experiment and only time will tell if ‘it’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature.’