On January 12, 1967, Chronic Wasting Disease was first identified in a captive deer herd in Colorado. It wasn’t until 1981 that it was detected in free-ranging deer in the surrounding area and by 1990 it reached southern Wyoming.

While Georgia has not detected a case of CWD, in February Mississippi became the first state in the southeast to confirm that a deer tested positive for the disease. Georgia DNR wants hunters and others to know that our agency is taking all necessary precautions to keep the disease out of state, but we also need your help.

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What is Chronic Wasting Disease?

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a contagious neurological disease that causes severe brain degeneration in infected animals, resulting in death.  It belongs to a group of diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE) that include scrapie (sheep), mad cow disease (cattle) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (humans).

 

Where did the disease originate?

CWD was first detected in a captive herd of mule deer in the late 1960s, but not recognized as a TSE until the 1970s.  It is currently unknown where it may have originated.

 

What causes it and what animals are affected?  

CWD is a fatal neurological disease found in cervids such as deer, elk, moose and reindeer. It’s caused by infectious proteins, called prions. The prions change healthy proteins into abnormal proteins that clump together and kill the surrounds cells. Infected deer become emaciated, display abnormal behavior, lose control of bodily functions, and die.

Deer herd

What are the symptoms?

It may take up to a year after an individual deer contracts the disease to display symptoms. Symptoms may include excessive weight loss (wasting), poor body condition, lethargy, head drooping, excessive salivation, and staggering or circling.  Other diseases, such as rabies, and injuries, such as brain abscesses, also cause these symptoms so it is critical to report sick animals to WRD for collection and testing.

How does it spread?

CWD is transmitted through direct contact with body fluids (blood, saliva, feces, urine) infected with the prions. It can also be passed indirectly in the environment through contaminated soil, food, or water. CWD prions are very contagious and once established, the disease is practically impossible to get rid of. The prions or disease agents can persist in the environment for long periods of time, so even after an infected animal has died, other animals can still contract the disease from the contaminated area for years.

Is there a cure?

There is currently no treatments or cure available for CWD.  There are also no preventative vaccines to protect healthy individuals. Once CWD is contracted the animal will eventually die.

Is CWD in Georgia?

To date, there have been no confirmed cases of CWD in Georgia or any of our neighboring states.  Mississippi is the nearest state to have a confirmed case of CWD (as of February 2018).

Is it transferable to humans?

There is no evidence to suggest that humans can contract the disease. However, it is recommended that when field dressing or processing cervids in areas where CWD is known to exist, precautions should be taken.

Where is it?

As of August 1, 2018, CWD has been confirmed in free-ranging cervid herds across 226 counties in 23 states, 3 Canadian provinces, and two foreign countries.

CWD_map2018
Locations of CWD in North America as of August 2018. Map credit: CDC 

Who should be concerned?

Anyone interested in wildlife (hunters, wildlife watchers, others), business owners (processors, hunting lodges or guides, outdoor sports business operators) and consumers of venison. At this time disease experts do not believe that CWD presents a risk to people or livestock. However, the theoretical possibility must be acknowledged.

 

PREVENTION

Our first line of defense is to prevent importation of live cervids as well as the importation of high risk carcass parts from states where CWD has been confirmed. Because there is no live test available to check for CWD in deer, deer movements pose a high risk for moving animals that may be shedding prions but not yet showing symptoms of the disease. In Georgia, it already is illegal to import any live deer species. If you harvest a white-tail deer, mule deer, elk, moose or caribou in a state having a documented case of CWD you may only bring back one of the following carcass parts: boned out meat; processed cuts of meat; clean skull plates with antlers attached; clean antlers; finished taxidermy mounts; and clean upper canine teeth. Although this only applies to states having detected CWD, following these guidelines is a good idea when hunting out of state anywhere.

 

Additional precautions for hunters, taxidermists and deer processors are below:

  • Do not harvest or handle animals that appear sick or unhealthy
  • Wear latex or rubber gloves to minimize exposure
  • Bone out all meat and avoid severing bones
  • Minimize handling of brain, tonsils, spinal cord and lymph glands
  • Thoroughly clean hands and sanitize tools
  • Do not consume brain, spinal cord and lymph glands
  • Process deer individually, and add no meat from other animals
  • Do not split the backbone
  • Designate one tool for removal of the head

deer in oaks

GEORGIA’S RESPONSE PLAN

As early as 2001, Georgia DNR began making response plans should an infection occur in our state and began proactive annual testing of harvested deer in 2002. If CWD were to be found in Georgia, the Wildlife Resources Division would immediately implement its response plan, including the following steps in cooperation with local land owners and hunters:

  • Notify the public and all stakeholders in the infected area and surrounding counties.
  • Begin enhanced surveillance in the infected area and surrounding counties.
  • Collect deer to determine the extent and prevalence of the disease.
  • Provide an avenue for local hunters and landowners to have deer tested for CWD

 

What can I do?

Hunters should report all violations of Georgia’s game and fish laws by calling 1-800-241-4113. If you observe or harvest a deer that exhibits CWD symptoms, please call your regional DNR office or your local Game Warden.

 

Want to learn more about about Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)? Visit: http://cwd-info.org/