Chronic Wasting Disease, also referred to as CWD, belongs to a classification of illnesses known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). If this sounds ominous, that is because it very much is. The disease is transmitted through abnormal proteins called prions, going on to attack the spleen, lymph nodes, eyes, spinal cord, and brain of cervids, causing fatal degeneration. Ultimately all infected deer will die of this incurable disease which is on the rise in Missouri with 11 new cases recently discovered.
It is possible for deer with CWD to live for several years without showing any symptoms but death follows shortly after symptoms appear. In order to diagnose this disease with any certainty, it is necessary to examine lymphatic tissue or brain stem, but affected deer do exhibit physical traits. They are usually disoriented, salivating excessively, and extremely underweight, often bearing tumors, stumbling, walking in repetitive patterns, and grinding their teeth. Once CWD establishes a foothold in an area, contamination becomes a problem, enabling it's further spread.
Photo: Natural Unseen Hazards
To date, CWD has been found in 21 states, of which Missouri has been one since 2010. It was at that time that CWD was present in Macon, Linn, and Adair counties. Since its discovery, a containment zone was established that is six counties in size. This spans the counties of Adair, Chariton, Linn, Macon, Randolph, and Sullivan. While establishing a containment zone has seemed an effective approach in this past, it was this year that an infected deer was found elsewhere, that being Centertown in Cole County.
It has been a bad year for Chronic Wasting Disease in Missouri with the number of cases on the rise. In addition to the 11 cases found in free-ranging deer, it has also been found in 11 captive deer. Though the Missouri Department of Conservation has been testing for the disease since 2001 and has covered a lot of ground in processing in excess of 43,000 tissue samples, there is unfortunately a backlog. Because of this, there are approximately 330 samples still waiting to be tested, which means the number of CWD cases could rise dramatically once testing is complete. For now, however, the number of CWD cases in Missouri's testing history hovers at 24. Numbers will be updated upon completion of tissue testing.
Photo: Missouri Outdoors
In the meantime, however, it is important that hunters stay on top of current CWD information as well as regulations in place to prevent its spread. This means not placing feed, salt, or minerals in the established containment area. When hunting in the containment zone, it is allowable to harvest yearling bucks free of antler restriction as CWD is more commonly seen in males than females. Upon a successful harvest, great caution needs to be exercised in the handling of carcasses. Typically infected body parts (brain, spinal cord, lymph nodes, spleen, and eyes) should be left behind and buried with the only allowable meat for removal being boned out meat, cut and wrapped meat, or hides that are free of excess tissue. Antlers or skulls/skull plates need to be thoroughly cleaned to ensure no trace of tissue remains before moving but exercise caution to avoid cutting into these parts if possible.
If you harvest a deer you suspect of having CWD, a call the Missouri Department of Conservation is necessary as is a call if you plan to transport meat out of state. They can be contacted at (8778535665). For more information about Chronic Wasting Disease, visit the MDC website.
Have you seen firsthand any cases of CWD or suspected CWD in Missouri? What observations about such deer did you make? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments!