“… eradication is thought to be impossible once CWD becomes established in a population, …”
from Texas Parks & Wildlife Department
Chronic Wasting Disease affects whitetail deer and related species. As the name implies, affected animals simply waste away and the disease is always fatal. Furthermore, as said above, TPW isn’t sure it can be controlled once it gets started within a given area.
At the last monthly meeting of the Texas Master Naturalist program here in Kerrville, two key staff members of Texas Parks & Wildlife spoke on the subject of Chronic Wasting Disease as is affects us here in Texas. Wildlife Veterinarian Bob Dittmar DVM (a local vet whom many in Kerrville will know) now works for TPW primarily on CWD. He was joined by Mitch Lockwood, TPW’s Big Game Program Director and they gave attendees an overview of the problem.
I’m not any sort of an authority, but here’s some information from my notes and from other reading I’ve done on the issue.
What Is Chronic Wasting Disease?
CWD is a TSE (transmissible spongiform encephalopathy). Scrapie in sheep, mad cow disease in cattle, and Cruetzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans are similar. Without going into detail, it affects the tissues of the brain and ultimately leads to confusion, lack of coordination, and loss of body mass. An animal can have the disease without showing symptoms, but, as per Dr. Dittmar, it is always fatal.
How Common Is CWD In Texas?
It’s not common at all. TPW started looking for CWD in 2002 and the first cases appeared in far West Texas (Hueco Mountains) in 2012. These affected animals were mule deer, and it was previously known to exist in elk in southern New Mexico.
It has also been found in a mule deer northeast of Amarillo and, seemingly from nowhere, it was found last year in Medina County in a captive whitetail population. Over the previous five years, this breeder had legally transported more than 800 deer to 140 facilities in 16 Texas counties. As of April 1, 10 cases have been found that originated at breeding facilities. Approximately 10,000 free ranging deer were tested – most from this past hunting season – and all tests were negative.
Overall, CWD has been found in 23 states and 2 Canadian provinces.
How Do I Know If Deer On My Property Have It?
Unless you can examine brain tissue under a high powered microscope (and know what you’re looking for), you don’t. This is the only method thus far deemed 100% reliable. At the meeting we were told that, if you see a sick deer, chances are good that it’s sick with worms or some other fairly typical malady. You don’t need to call anyone. However, if you see 2 or 3 that look too thin, too disoriented, or stand with “saw-horse” appearance, call TPW, a game warden, or the Texas Animal Health Commission.
Should I Be Worried?
Probably not, but some folks like to worry. CWD appears to be transmitted between deer by direct contact – blood, urine, antler velvet, or saliva. In other words, it doesn’t float through the air, though it can remain active in the environment without a host animal for many years. There seems to be a species barrier. It hasn’t been found in Axis or Fallow deer.
There are NO known cases of it being transmitted to humans. This disease was first observed in Colorado in 1967. Since that time, no sign of its transmission to humans or cattle has been observed. Still, the CDC and WHO think it’s in our best interest that we not eat any part of a deer that might have it. As Mr. Lockwood said, “Don’t eat sick looking deer.”
In my opinion, Chronic Wasting Disease is something we should be aware of, but not worried about. It’d be a bad deal if it ever became prevalent in Texas, but it’s my impression that some good people are legitimately worried about it and working to keep that from happening.