Raleigh, N.C. (May 16) – In response to a national wildlife disease situation, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission yesterday adopted an emergency rule to keep North Carolina’s deer herd healthy. The target of the emergency rule, Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), came to national attention on September 21, 2001, when the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture issued a “declaration of emergency” concerning CWD in captive elk.

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) of deer and elk. A progressive disease, CWD typically induces chronic weight loss leading to death. The majority of infected animals also experience behavioral changes, including decreased interactions with other animals, listlessness, lowering of the head, blank facial expression and repetitive walking in set patterns. Most deer show increased drinking and urination and may have excessive salivation and grinding of the teeth.

Wildlife professionals have identified CWD in wild herds of deer and/or elk in Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Saskatchewan. The disease also occurs in captive herds in South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, Oklahoma, Montana and Kansas and two Canadian provinces. Although the disease has not appeared in any deer or elk in North Carolina, recently private individuals have imported deer from infected states. Therefore, to protect native wildlife and keep North Carolina CWD-free, the Commission is banning all importation of live animals from the family Cervidae (which includes deer and elk) into the state and transportation of these animals within the state, effective May 17, 2002.

Although transmitted between animals, the pathway of disease transmission from one animal to the next is unknown. The CWD incubation period can last up to five years (possibly longer) which compounds the problem of diagnoses. Currently, the only way wildlife professionals have to diagnose CWD is through post-mortem examination.

Citizens who currently hold cervids legally in captivity can continue to do so, but must abide by the transport and import restrictions. The Commission will consider in July if further restrictions on captive herds are necessary. There are no proposed changes to deer hunting regulations.

TSEs are neurological diseases characterized by empty spaces in the brain matter, creating a “spongy” appearance. Other known TSEs are: scrapie in sheep, bovine spongiform encephalopathy in cattle, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease and New Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in humans. However, epidemiologists with the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment studying CWD found no link between it and any neurological disease that affects humans. Finally, researchers—using controlled experiments with penned animals—have documented no natural transmission of CWD from deer or elk to livestock.