Chronic Wasting Disease has now spread to 24 states, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. The disease is responsible for what are called “zombie deer” for the impact the disease has on the animals.
In an update released prior to the start of the fall hunting season, the CDC identified parts of Wyoming Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska as the epicenter of the disease, which also strikes parts of the Midwest, South and New York state.
The disease affects deer, elk and moose and has also been reported in two Canadian provinces.
Chronic Wasting Disease, which bears the technical name of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, affects a deer’s brains and spinal cord.
Symptoms include drastic weight loss, lack of coordination, listlessness, drooling, excessive thirst or urination, drooping ears, no fear of people and aggression. There is no known cure for the disease.
Recently, Nevada, Iowa, Wyoming, Pennsylvania and Tennessee have either issued warnings to hunters to be aware of the disease or have confirmed that new cases have been found, USA Today reported.
Nevada has begun testing dead animals and monitoring elk and deer herds as part of its efforts to keep the state CWD-free, Peregrine Wolff, a Nevada Department of Wildlife veterinarian, told The Associated Press.
Wolff said that the battle is likely to be a losing one.
“It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” she said. “We know that we can’t wrap Nevada in a bubble.”
The CDC warned that the disease may have crept into other locations as well.
“It is possible that CWD may also occur in other states without strong animal surveillance systems, but that cases haven’t been detected yet. Once CWD is established in an area, the risk can remain for a long time in the environment. The affected areas are likely to continue to expand,” it said.
The CDC warned that in areas of high incidence, infection rates among deer can range as high as 25 percent.
Although there have been no reports of the disease affecting humans, it is not impossible. The CDC said eating infected meat is the most likely way for the disease to spread to humans.
“It is probable that human cases of chronic wasting disease associated with consumption with contaminated meat will be documented in the years ahead,” Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said earlier this year.
Pennsylvania is among the states grappling with the disease.
“I am definitely not looking forward to this issue being in our area,” said Troy Bowersox, a hunter in Pennsylvania’s Union County, according to the Sharon Herald. “I need to research it more, but if it is bad, I’ll probably stop hunting here.”
Courtney Colley, speaking for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, said the impact goes beyond hunters.
“Deer hunting is our most popular type of hunting, and considering the fear of Chronic Wasting Disease impacting the health of the people who consume the meat, there is a really good chance this will greatly impact the license sales throughout the state if we don’t act now,” she said.
“Many don’t realize the ripple effect hunting has on other industries throughout the state, how much hunting helps all sorts of environmental conservation efforts and the potential economic impact.”
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.