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What is Chronic Wasting Disease?
CWD is a neurological (brain and nervous system) disease found in deer, elk and moose in some areas of North America. It has not been found in Arkansas, yet. The disease belongs to a family of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies or prion diseases. CWD attacks the brains of infected animals and is always fatal. CWD is similar to mad cow disease in cattle and scrapie in sheep.
How is it spread?
It is not completely understood how CWD is spread. It is believed that the agent responsible for the disease may be spread directly (animal-to-animal contact) and indirectly (soil- or other surface-to-animal). It is thought that the most common mode of transmission from an infected animal may be through saliva and feces. There is evidence that people have spread the disease by moving infected animals and portions of their bodies.
Is it dangerous to humans?
There currently is no evidence that CWD is transmissible to humans. However, public health officials recommend that human exposure to CWD-infected animals be avoided.
Is the meat safe to eat?
Although the agent that causes CWD has not been positively identified, strong evidence suggests that prions are responsible. Prions are abnormally shaped proteins that are not destroyed by cooking. Accordingly, hunters are advised not to eat meat from animals known to be infected with CWD. Prions generally accumulate in the brain, eyes, spinal cord, lymph nodes, tonsils and spleen of infected animals. Based on these findings, hunters in CWD-positive states are advised to completely bone out all harvested deer and elk in the field and not consume those parts of the animal where prions likely accumulate.
Hunters should not shoot, handle or consume any animal that is acting abnormally or appears to be sick.
Symptoms of CWD
Infected animals may not show any symptoms of the disease. In some stages of the disease, however, infected animals begin to lose control of bodily functions and display abnormal behavior such as staggering, standing with very poor posture and losing fear of humans. Infected animals lose weight rapidly and often stand in or near water and drink excessively. They may also exhibit drooling or excessive salivation. Some of these symptoms are not unique to CWD and are found in other diseases affecting deer and elk.
What Can Hunters Do?
- If you kill an extremely skinny deer or one that is obviously sick, contact the AGFC, (800) 482-9262.
- Don’t place urine-based deer or elk lures on the ground or vegetation where deer can reach them. Placing them out of reach of deer still allows air circulation to disperse the scent but prevents possible indirect transmission.
- When field-dressing game, wear rubber gloves and don’t cut through the brain or spinal cord (backbone).
- Always wash hands thoroughly after dressing and processing wild game.
Cervid Carcass Importation Restrictions
In 2005, the AGFC adopted regulations to prevent CWD from spreading into the state through mishandled animal carcasses.
A cervid is any member of the Cervidae family, including white-tailed deer, elk, moose, red deer, sika deer, fallow deer, mule deer and caribou.
The following items are the only portions allowed to be imported, transported or possessed in Arkansas from any captive facility, enclosure or CWD-positive state or province:
- Antlers and/or antlers attached to clean skull plates or cleaned skulls (where no meat or tissue is attached to skull)
- Meat with bones removed
- Cleaned teeth
- Finished taxidermy products
- Hides and tanned products
Deer or elk harvested in commercial wildlife hunting resorts in Arkansas may be transported or possessed only after a CWD sample is collected.
CWD-Positive States and Provinces
The following U.S. states and Canadian provinces are CWD positive:
Alberta, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Saskatchewan, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming and any other state or province where a positive case of CWD has been confirmed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture or Canadian Food Inspection Agency.