Earlier this month, Mississippi became the first state in the southeast to confirm that a deer tested positive for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). 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.
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, that is, deer, elk, moose and reindeer. It is caused by infectious proteins, called prions. The prions change healthy proteins into abnormal proteins, which in turn affects additional healthy proteins. Infected deer become emaciated, display abnormal behavior, lose control of bodily functions, and die.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms may include excessive weight loss, lethargy, lowered head, blank stare, 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.
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).
Where is it?
CWD was first documented among captive mule deer in Colorado in 1967, and has been confirmed in 24 states, three Canadian provinces, and two foreign countries. It has been found in free-ranging herds in 22 states and among captive deer and elk in 16 states.
Locations of CWD in North America as of February 2018. Map credit: http://cwd-info.org/map-chronic-wasting-disease-in-north-america/
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.
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. 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 (link: http://cwd-info.org/) 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 can be found below:
- Precaution Suggestions
- 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 head
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 (http://georgiawildlife.com/about/contact) or your local Game Warden (http://gadnrle.org/find-ranger).