Despite efforts to contain the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD), the lethal prion disease continues to pose a significant threat both in the United States and internationally. CWD, often referred to as the “zombie deer” disease, has devastated deer populations in various regions.
CWD first struck New York in 2005 when infected deer escaped from a fenced-in pen in Oneida County, resulting in a swift and aggressive culling operation by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. Through the cooperative efforts of local hunters and the department, New York successfully eliminated CWD from its deer, moose, and elk population, making it the only state to achieve this feat.
However, the disease continues to spread globally, alarming authorities and wildlife enthusiasts alike. Chronic wasting disease is categorized as a prion disease, a rare group of progressive neurological disorders that affect both humans and animals. Other prion diseases include Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and mad cow disease.
Prion diseases like CWD cause the development of sponge-like holes in the brain, affecting spinal fluid and other bodily tissues. Although no known cases of CWD transmission to humans have been documented, studies suggest a potential risk to certain primates that come into contact with infected animals’ body fluids.
CWD exhibits a long incubation period, during which infected animals appear healthy for up to two years before displaying symptoms. The disease spreads through bodily fluids as well as contaminated soil, plants, food, or water. Infected animals may exhibit symptoms such as drastic weight loss, lack of coordination, drooling, excessive thirst or urination, and lack of fear of people.
Precautionary measures are crucial in combating the spread of CWD. Hunters are advised to report any observed symptoms in deer, moose, elk, or other cervids. Individuals handling and processing meat are encouraged to wear protective gloves to minimize the potential for transmission.
To prevent further outbreaks, regulations prohibit the importation of live deer and cervids from outside the state, as well as the importation of carcasses and by-products. Additionally, feeding wild deer is discouraged, as it can lead to the concentration of animals and the subsequent spread of the disease.
As the battle against chronic wasting disease continues, awareness and adherence to precautionary measures are paramount in safeguarding wildlife populations and mitigating potential risks to human health.
What is chronic wasting disease (CWD)?
Chronic wasting disease is a prion disease that affects animals such as deer, elk, and moose. It causes sponge-like holes to develop in the brain, affecting spinal fluid and other bodily tissues.
What are prion diseases?
Prion diseases are a group of rare progressive neurological disorders that impact both humans and animals. Examples of prion diseases include Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and mad cow disease.
Can CWD spread to humans?
To date, there have been no documented cases of CWD transmission to humans. However, some studies suggest a potential risk to certain primates that come into contact with infected animals’ body fluids.
How does CWD spread?
CWD spreads through bodily fluids as well as contaminated soil, plants, food, or water. Animals infected with CWD can transmit the disease to others, even during the lengthy incubation period when they show no symptoms.
What precautions should be taken to prevent the spread of CWD?
Hunters are advised to report any observations of symptoms in deer, moose, elk, or other cervids. Those handling and processing meat are recommended to wear protective gloves. Regulations also exist to prevent the importation of live deer and cervids, as well as carcasses and by-products, to control the spread of the disease. Feeding wild deer is discouraged to avoid concentration and subsequent transmission of CWD.