California hunters who plan to hunt deer and elk out-of-state are being asked to follow some safety guidelines to minimize the chance of spreading chronic wasting disease (CWD) to California elk and deer herds. The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) is asking hunters to remove all nervous tissue (brain and spinal cord) from deer and elk meat before bringing it back into California.

“At this point we are asking hunters to help protect our deer and elk herds through voluntary compliance, but it is likely to become mandatory soon,” said Sonke Mastrup, deputy director of the DFG’s Wildlife and Fisheries Division.

The DFG will ask the Fish and Game Commission to adopt an emergency regulation at its August 30 meeting in Oakland, Mastrup said. The regulation would ban the importation of hunter harvested deer and elk meat, except for boned meat, quarters or processed cuts of meat, hides, and heads that have no part of the spinal column or brain attached, to reduce the threat of chronic wasting disease.

CWD is a neurological disease that is fatal to deer and elk. It has been found in wild deer and elks in limited areas of Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Kansas and New Mexico. CWD has also been identified in farmed elk in Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

Although its method of transmission is not fully understood, disease experts believe CWD is passed through direct animal-to-animal contact and possibly by indirect contact with the highly resistant CWD prion, the suspected disease agent, in a contaminated environment. Wildlife officials in those states have attempted to limit further spread of the disease.

CWD has not been found in California. California is considered a “low risk” state because of its long-term ban on the importation of live elk, prohibition on elk farming, and its strict monitoring of live deer importations. Nevertheless, the DFG has been conducting a CWD surveillance program since 1999 and will continue to monitor wild deer populations.

Currently, there is no evidence that CWD is naturally transmissible to humans or to animals other than deer and elk. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta states that “although it is generally prudent to avoid consuming food derived from any animal with evidence with CWD, to date, there is no evidence that CWD has been transmitted or can be transmitted to humans under natural conditions.”

It is suggested that hunters follow simple precautions when hunting: * Wear rubber gloves when field dressing carcasses; * Bone out meat from the animal; * Minimize the handling of brain and spinal cord, eyes, spleen and lymph nodes and avoid consuming these tissues; * Wash hands and instruments thoroughly after field dressing is completed.

CWD is related to mad cow disease and to scrapie, which affects sheep. Ongoing studies suggest that CWD is unlikely to naturally infect species other than deer or elk.