Michigan Department of Natural Resources officials today reminded Michigan hunters headed out-of-state to hunt deer and elk this fall to take common-sense precautions to avoid accidentally bringing Chronic Wasting Disease back to Michigan.

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a highly contagious disease of the nervous system that affects white-tailed deer, mule deer, and elk. It is not known to infect domestic animals or humans. CWD has been identified in wild deer and elk in Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico, Saskatchewan, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming, and in captive elk in Alberta, Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Saskatchewan and South Dakota. Most recently, CWD was found in captive white-tailed deer in Wisconsin.

The best available scientific evidence suggests the disease is transmitted by direct contact with an infected deer or elk, or contact with an area that has been contaminated by the saliva, feces, and possibly urine of an infected animal. The agent that causes CWD (called a prion), may be capable of remaining infectious in the environment for long periods of time.

Although there is currently no evidence that CWD can be transmitted through contact with deer and elk carcasses, some are understandably concerned that the disease could be introduced into Michigan by transport of carcass parts from other states or provinces.

• Hunters should learn and follow the disease control regulations and recommendations in the areas they hunt. This information is available where hunting licenses are sold and from state fish and game agencies. For example, Colorado and Wisconsin have special provisions this year to limit the transportation of certain animal tissues considered more likely to contain CWD prions in an infected deer or elk (mainly brain, spinal cord, and lymphoid tissues like lymph nodes and spleen). Wisconsin wildlife officials recommend that only boned or cut-and-wrapped meat, capes/skull caps/antlers with no meat or brain tissue attached, or finished taxidermied heads, be removed from special CWD management areas. Even if it is not strictly required in the area where they hunt, Michigan residents should follow these guidelines when transporting carcasses and trophies back home to Michigan.

• Deer and elk carcasses or carcass parts should never be disposed in the woods or fields. They should be taken to a sanitary landfill, or buried deeply where other animals cannot scavenge or disturb them.

• Hunters should cooperate with CWD testing programs in the area where they hunt. If state or provincial wildlife officials ask to test your deer or elk, let them. The test results will provide wildlife biologists and veterinarians with important information on the presence and distribution of the disease. The results will also help hunters make decisions about venison consumption and disposal of the carcass.

• Hunters whose deer or elk are being tested for CWD by another state/province should strongly consider waiting to consume their venison until final test results are received. While there is currently no scientific evidence that CWD can infect humans or domestic animals, the World Health Organization has recommended, as a precaution, that no part or product of any animal with evidence of CWD be fed to humans or other animals.

• If a Michigan resident hunting out-of-state is informed that his deer/elk was infected with CWD, he should contact the Michigan DNR’s Rose Lake Wildlife Disease Laboratory at 517-373-9358. After confirming the test result with officials in the state that conducted the testing, if the hunter wishes, DNR staff will make arrangements to pick up the remains of the infected animal so that it can be sent for high-temperature incineration. Properly cleaned skull caps/antlers need not be disposed of.

• Michigan residents hunting in states or provinces where CWD has been identified are urged to follow some common-sense precautions when processing their venison. These precautions are available in pamphlet form from DNR.

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