Chronic Wasting Disease
The facts regarding Chronic Wasting Disease and deer in Ohio
Are Ohio's deer healthy?
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife has been monitoring the general health and condition of deer at a number of the mandatory deer check stations for many years. Deer brought to check stations have been routinely tested and inspected by the Ohio Departments of Agriculture and Health for diseases and parasites, such as Chronic Wasting Disease, tuberculosis and the ticks that spread Lyme Disease. No problems have been detected from the thousands of animals examined over the years.
Chronic Wasting Disease
After reports of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) surfaced in Wisconsin in 2002, Ohio began targeted monitoring of its deer herd. No sign of CWD has been found here. Officials believe that it's unlikely that CWD will be found here for a number of reasons: 1) Years of testing in high-risk areas has failed to detect the disease; 2) Ohio's large human population would make it very unlikely that sick or dying deer would go unnoticed. In addition, the Division of Wildlife intentionally manages deer herd levels well below the carrying capacity of the habitat throughout the state. This management approach keeps the herd in excellent overall health and, because deer population densities are kept relatively low, the opportunity to spread disease between animals is minimized.
What is Chronic Wasting Disease?
Chronic Wasting Disease is a progressive, fatal, degenerative disease of the brain affecting elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, and moose. CWD belongs to a group of related diseases called Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs), which include diseases such as Scrapie in sheep and goats, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) in humans. There is no evidence that CWD affects humans. CWD is not the same as CJD or BSE. TSEs are thought to be caused by abnormal proteins, called prions, in the brain. There is currently no treatment or vaccine available.
How is it transmitted?
It is not certain how CWD is transmitted, but deer observation in Colorado and Wyoming has shown that both lateral (animal to animal) and maternal (mother to offspring) transmission may be possible. The most likely means of transmission is between animals that are in close contact with each other. The epidemiology supports lateral transmission as the major mode of transmission as most affected animals in the Colorado and Wyoming facilities were unrelated. In addition, the elk and mule deer placed in pens that had housed infected cervids (members of the deer family) for many years became infected, even though there were no other cervids on the premises, leading to the assumption that the environment of a facility could be a source of the disease.
Where has it occurred?
In 1967, Chronic Wasting Disease was first detected in deer in northeast Colorado. CWD has not been found in Ohio. As of July 2012, it has been diagnosed in wild or captive deer and/or elk in Alberta, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Saskatchewan, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Visit the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance Web site for an updated map.
What are the symptoms and how is it diagnosed?
Elk and deer with CWD may not produce any visible symptoms of the disease for a number of years. Eventually, as the disease progresses, animals may exhibit loss of weight, excessive salivation, trouble swallowing, difficulty in judging distance, and drooping ears. Unfortunately, these symptoms are not specific to CWD and can occur with other diseases as well. Currently, the only validated method to diagnose CWD is by examining the brain tissue or lymph nodes after the animal has died.
Should hunters take precautions in handling deer or deer meat?
There is no evidence that CWD affects humans. However, even though it is safe to eat deer meat, hunters can take some common-sense precautions, such as not harvesting deer that appear sick or otherwise abnormal, wearing rubber gloves while field dressing and processing deer, and avoiding handling or eating deer brain, spinal cord, spleen or lymph nodes. Hunters should also follow the Division of Wildlife's deer carcass disposal regulations.
Are livestock or people at risk?
Experiments in Colorado, Wyoming, and Iowa have shown that it is extremely difficult to infect cattle with CWD. Cattle living in close contact with infected deer or ingesting infected deer brain have not developed the disease in four and a half years of study. Based on this and other research, it appears that there is a substantial biological barrier to transmission of CWD from deer to cattle.
The World Health Organization, the TSE Advisory Committee of the Food and Drug Administration, and public health officials have reviewed the available scientific information and concluded that at present there is no evidence that CWD in deer or elk can be transmitted to humans. However, these groups recommend that human exposure to the CWD agent be minimized as they continue to evaluate any potential risk.
What is Ohio doing about CWD?
Considering all the information available, the likelihood of Ohio deer having CWD is remote. The Division of Wildlife, along with the Ohio Departments of Agriculture (ODA) and Health, and USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Veterinary Services (APHIS-VS) expanded the surveillance that has been conducted biannually for tuberculosis in addition to ODNR 's existing, aggressive monitoring for disease.
Annually, ODA's Animal Disease Diagnostics Laboratory is conducting CWD tests on 500+ samples collected from useable road-killed deer.
Tests performed by ODA's lab on samples from harvested deer are only intended to screen for evidence of CWD infection. Results are not meant to imply assurance of meat quality for human consumption. Test accuracy and sensitivity (the ability to detect infected animals) can vary depending on sample quality and stage of infection.
In addition, deer displaying symptoms any time during the year will be collected by Division of Wildlife staff and tested at ODA's lab. (Note that symptoms common to CWD could be caused by a number of other unrelated problems. It is impossible to determine if a deer has CWD simply by observing symptoms. Confirmation can only be done in the laboratory.) The Division of Wildlife has been conducting targeted surveillance throughout the state since early summer 2002 and tests have found no sign of CWD.
Can hunters have the deer they harvested tested for CWD?
Yes, deer harvested which appear healthy can have CWD testing, if the hunter delivers the deer head to the ODA's Animal Disease Diagnostics Laboratory in Reynoldsburg. The Ohio Department of Agriculture will charge the hunter for the CWD test. Contact ODA at 614.728.6220 to make arrangements prior to taking the deer head to their laboratory.
What should hunters do if they see a deer that appears to be sick
Hunters who see deer that appear to be sick or are displaying abnormal behavior should advise the landowner and either the hunter or the landowner should immediately report the occurrence to the Division of Wildlife. The person reporting the animal should describe both the location of the animal and its symptoms and behavior. Hunters should not kill or handle a deer that they believe is sick.
What Should Hunters do if they harvest a deer or elk out-of-state?
- Hunters are encouraged to bone out the meat and remove all fat and connective tissue before returning to Ohio.
- Properly dispose of hide, brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils, and bones in a landfill.
Review the deer carcass disposal regulations for more information.
- If your deer or elk is CWD tested in another state, report CWD positive results to ODA at (614) 728-6220.
Venison is a valued, healthy source of food.
Agencies such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Ohio Department of Health are responsible for human health. No warnings have been issued by these agencies with regards to CWD and eating deer meat. There are NO illnesses and NO deaths known to be related to CWD among the nation's 16 million deer hunters since the disease was discovered more than 35 years ago.
Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD)
EHD was confirmed in 2012 as the source of illness impacting deer in a few localized areas in Ohio. The disease is the most common ailment of deer in the United States. State animal health officials stress that EHD is NOT related to CWD. EHD does not affect humans, nor impact the safety of consumed deer. EHD is caused by the bite of an infected midge and once there has been a hard freeze, the insects die off for the winter, eliminating new cases of EHD. See the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study’s website for more information.
Websites to visit for more information:
Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance
USDA Animal and Plant Inspection Service