The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) will continue surveillance for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) by taking random samples from hunter-killed deer on certain Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) and on private lands through a cooperative effort with landowners this fall. The disease has never been documented in Louisiana or any other Southeastern state to date.
There is no indication that CWD of deer and elk can be transmitted between species other than cervids (deer family), and there is no indication that the disease can be transmitted to humans either by contact with or consumption of hunter-killed deer. However, this disease represents a very significant threat to North America’s deer and elk population.
LDWF has conducted annual disease and parasite surveys on the state’s deer herd since the mid-1960s. CWD testing was added to the disease surveillance program for the first time in 2002. Louisiana’s CWD surveillance program was developed from guidelines and recommendations originating from the Southeast Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study (SCWDS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
CWD belongs to a group of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). Other more commonly known forms of TSEs include scrapie in sheep and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or mad cow disease) in cattle.
CWD attacks the central nervous system of the deer or elk and presents symptoms including extreme weight loss, excessive salivation, increased drinking and urination, and poor coordination. The disease is infectious and always fatal to deer and elk. Chronic wasting disease has a prolonged incubation period and no practical test exists to detect the disease in live animals since examination requires brain tissue samples.
Hunters can help fight the spread of CWD to Louisiana. Hunters traveling to states with confirmed cases of chronic wasting disease are urged to return with only the following into Louisiana: portions of meat that has been boned out with no part of the spinal column or head attached, completely skinned out hides with tailbone removed, clean skulls or skull plates with antlers attached, antlers (detached from the skull plate); clean upper canine teeth, and finished taxidermy heads.
States where CWD has been diagnosed include: Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Evidence exists that the CWD agent can remain viable in the soil for several years. This has been demonstrated at two research facilities where the disease was present in deer or elk. The diseased animals were removed, and the facilities underwent complete disinfecting and no animals were present for an extended period of time. Once animals were returned to the facility, they became infected with CWD. If hunters dispose of infected carcass parts in Louisiana, the potential exists for the disease agent to infect deer in the local area.