Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Fatal deer disease may be spreading across Southeast

226 counties in 23 states have reported chronic wasting disease in wild cervids (U.S. Geological Survey map)
A disease that cripples deer, usually found in the West and Midwest, may be spreading across the Southeast. A white-tailed deer tested positive for chronic wasting disease in Mississippi this month, the second deer confirmed to be carrying the disease in the state, Dan Chapman reports for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"I would be shocked if we only had these two," William McKinley, deer program coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, told Chapman. "These deer died of CWD. The first deer was tested and retested and notched the highest possible CWD score. He was contagious for well over a year. I’m not confident we won’t find others."

CWD is a prion disease, like mad-cow disease in cattle, that attacks the central nervous system of cervids — animals in the deer family, including moose, elk and reindeer. It's progressive, always fatal, and there are no treatments or vaccines, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the disease incubates, sometimes for years, seemingly healthy infected animals can shed prions in blood, sweat or urine and potentially infect other animals, Chapman reports.

No humans are known to have been infected with CWD, but studies show risks to monkeys that were fed meat from CWD-infected animals. Infection rates for wild deer in disease-prone areas are about 10 percent, but can hit nearly 80 percent among captive deer. Illegal transportation of deer across state lines to captive facilities is considered the main cause of CWD's spread, Chapman reports. 

The CDC recommends that hunters in disease-prone areas avoid eating deer and elk parts known to harbor prions, including the brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils, and lymph nodes. 

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