HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
- CWD is an always-fatal nervous system disease found in cervids (deer, elk, moose, reindeer). It can be transmitted through direct animal to animal contact, contact with saliva, feces, carcass parts of an infected animal, and can even spread through soil that has been contaminated with any of the above tissues or fluids. To date, it has been found in wild or captive cervids in 25 states, three Canadian Provinces, Norway, and South Korea.
- The disease is not caused by a virus or bacteria. CWD is one of a family of diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. These diseases are the result of a naturally occurring protein, called a prion, that becomes misfolded and thus resists being broken down by the body the way normal proteins are. When these misfolded proteins are introduced into a healthy cervid, they multiply by causing the animal’s normal and healthy prion proteins to misfold and begin damaging the animal’s nervous system. This process may take as long as two years before the animal begins to show outward signs of the disease.
- There is no known cure. CWD, like all transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, is not treatable and is ultimately fatal. This makes it a real, and undeniable threat to animal and herd health. To date, scientists have documented that CWD can have negative population effects in elk, mule deer, and white-tailed deer. Published models predict that CWD has a population level impact when its prevalence within the herd exceeds 27%, and in areas where little active management of the disease has been done, herds are currently infected with CWD at rates higher than 40%.
- You will likely never see animals exhibiting symptoms of CWD. Animals in the late stages of CWD are often emaciated, show erratic behavior, and exhibit neurological irregularities. However, due to the long, slow advancement of the disease, infected animals are almost always killed by predators, vehicles, hunters, or other diseases well before symptoms of CWD get bad enough for a person to recognize. Be aware of your states’ regulations to know how to report a sick animal if you ever encounter one. Refer to your state fish and wildlife agency’s CWD website for more information.
- CWD has not been shown to be infective to humans. Current research indicates that there is a robust species barrier that keeps CWD from being readily transmitted to humans. In fact, there are several other species that don’t seem to contract CWD either, like cattle and pronghorn. However, laboratory studies have shown that the CWD infective prions can be forced to morph into a form that may be infective to humans, and it has been shown that other primates (macaques) can contract the disease by consuming meat from CWD infected deer. Therefore, it is recommended that humans not consume meat from infected animals.
- The best way to manage CWD is to prevent its introduction into new areas and limit its spread. To date, CWD has persisted, spread, and increased in prevalence in nearly every area where it has been introduced. Since there is no vaccine for a prion disease like CWD, the options for managing CWD are extremely limited. The most effective strategies, by far, are those that eliminate ways CWD can travel to new areas by infected animals or infected animal parts. Ideally, there should be no animals moving from infected areas to uninfected areas. In places where CWD is present, cervid populations should be managed to reduce their potential to congregate or increase in unnaturally high numbers.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO ABOUT IT?