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Crucial Facts: Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer

February 26, 2018
Voiceover: Farm & Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
Amy Myers: Today, we’re talking about “Crucial Facts about Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer.” Hello, I’m Amy Myers and welcome to Farm & Family. Today we’re speaking with Dr. Bronson Strickland, Mississippi State University Extension Wildlife Specialist. So, Dr. Strickland, whether you’re a wildlife enthusiast or not, chronic wasting disease in deer might affect you. So what is chronic wasting disease in deer?
Bronson Strickland: Thank you, Amy for the opportunity.  This is really a big deal.  We don’t know the extent of it yet but it’s going to be a big deal for a long time so yeah let me tell you a little bit about chronic wasting disease, called CWD for short. It is a contagious neurological disease that affects deer and by that we mean with tail deer, mule deer elk and moose, and even most recently, found in Caribou. It causes a characteristic spongy degeneration of the brains of the infected animals. So, it causes them to lose weight, they’re gonna be very very thin, they will have very abnormal behavior, they’re not going to exhibit the typical tendency to be scared of people, and they also will lose a lot of their bodily functions, and ultimately it will result in death.
Amy: Can humans get CWD?
Bronson: As of yet, no. It has not been proven, but we want people to of course use caution. You know, a lot of people compare CWD to the Mad Cow Disease.  Currently, there is no evidence that CWD poses a risk to humans. However, public health officials recommend that human exposure to CWD should be avoided, as they continue to evaluate any potential health risks.
Amy: It’s not deer season anymore right now, but there are some preventative measures that we should remember when it becomes deer season again. I want to emphasize the fact that you are not allowed to shoot a deer at all right now anyway, so we’re not talking about shooting deer right now.  We’re talking about upcoming deer season.  So what are the preventative measures?
Bronson: Great point.  Deer season is over, so from this perspective, contact a conservation officer and let them handle this.  Don’t handle, you know, don’t shoot, handle or consume an animal that is acting abnormally or appears to be sick.  Notify the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks and let the experts handle that.  Preventative measures that you can take again, wear gloves.  You know, we always recommend wearing latex gloves or rubber gloves when you’re when your field dressing your deer.  Bone the meat out from your animal.  Don’t saw through the bone, avoid cutting through the brain or spinal cord.  And the reason for that is, that is where the disease agent, that is where they accumulate, are in those types of tissues.  So, by handling just the meat versus the the bone, that is a safer way to handle the meat.  Of course wash your hands and instruments thoroughly after field dressing the animal and then again, avoid consuming tissues like the brain and spinal cord, the spleen, lymph nodes, things like that, because, that is that is where these infectious tissues will accumulate.  Avoid consuming the meat for any animal that tests positive.  So, if we get to a place in Mississippi where we’re going to have our hunter harvested deer tested, don’t eat those deer.  If you have your deer commercially processed, request that your animal is processed individually, without meat from other animals being added to your animal.
Amy: Where and how did CWD originate?
Bronson:  We may never know [for] absolutely sure. It was first recognized as a syndrome in captive mule deer, held in captivity in Colorado.  A really close cousin disease is called Scrapie, which is found in domestic sheep, and that is been around, or has been recognized in the US, since 1947.  So it’s possible that CWD was derived from Scrapie, but never proven that deer came into contact with Scrapie-infected sheep, either on shared pastures, or in captivity somewhere.  It may be possible that CWD is just a spontaneous TSE that arose in deer in the wild or in captivity, and has biological features that promote transmission to other deer and elk. 
Amy: How does CWD spread?
Bronson:  It’s not known exactly how it’s transmitted.  The infectious agent may be passed in feces or urine and saliva.  Transmission is thought to be lateral, meaning from animal to animal.  The minimal incubation period between infection and develop of the clinical disease appears to be approximately 16 months, give or take.

Amy:  For more crucial information on CWD, visit the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks, at M-D-W-F-P dot com.  Today, we’ve been speaking with Bronson Strickland Mississippi State University Extension wildlife specialist. I’m Amy Myers and this has been Farm and family. Have a great day!
Voiceover: Farm & Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

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