With the growing media attention given to Chronic Wasting Disease, many hunters are asking if they should continue to hunt in areas where CWD has been identified, and to eat the deer and elk they harvest from those areas.
In areas where CWD occurs, only a relatively small number of animals are infected. Even in the parts of Wyoming and Colorado where chronic wasting disease has existed for at least 30 years, an average of less than six percent of deer are infected. Infection rates in affected deer herds in Colorado vary from less than 1 percent to 13 percent. CWD is far less prevalent in elk than deer. Less than 1 percent of elk found in areas where the disease occurs in northeastern Colorado are infected.
There is currently no scientific evidence that CWD has or can spread to humans, either through contact with infected animals or by eating meat of infected animals. The Center of Disease Control has thoroughly investigated any connection between CWD and the human forms of TSEs and stated “the risk of infection with the CWD agent among hunters is extremely small, if it exists at all” and “it is extremely unlikely that CWD would be a food borne hazard.”
However, public health officials advise caution and recommend that human exposure to the CWD infectious agent be avoided as they continue to evaluate any potential health risk. Hunters are encouraged not to consume meat from animals known to be infected with CWD. In addition, hunters should take certain precautions when field dressing and processing deer or elk taken in areas where CWD is found.
Concerns over CWD shouldn’t stop you from enjoying this hunting season. State and provincial wildlife agencies are stepping up their surveillance for CWD, so be alert to their advisories and follow the recommended safety precautions.
Simple Precautions Advised
Public health and wildlife officials advise hunters to take the following precautions when pursuing or handling deer and elk that may have been exposed to CWD:
- Do not shoot, handle or consume any animal that is acting abnormally or appears to be sick. Contact your state game and fish department if you see or harvest an animal that appears sick.
- Wear latex or rubber gloves when field dressing your deer or elk.
- Bone out the meat from your animal. Don’t saw through bone, and avoid cutting through the brain or spinal cord (backbone).
- Minimize the handling of brain and spinal tissues.
- Wash hands and instruments thoroughly after field dressing is completed.
- Avoid consuming brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils and lymph nodes of harvested animals. (Normal field dressing coupled with boning out a carcass will remove most, if not all, of these body parts. Cutting away all fatty tissue will remove remaining lymph nodes.)
- Avoid consuming the meat from any animal that tests positive for the disease.
- If you have your deer or elk commercially processed, request that your animal is processed individually, without meat from other animals being added to meat from your animal.
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection has developed a brochure on field dressing and processing deer. This excellent resource can be found on their website [PDF]