By JIM ABRAMS
If you’re a deer hunter or a wildlife watcher you would have had to be living under a pretty big rock to have missed the several years’ worth of news concerning chronic wasting disease.
Best known as CWD, it is a contagious neurological disease that affects whitetail deer. It’s part of a nasty family of diseases known as TSEs (transmissible spongiform encephalopathies) whose variants affect domestic animals. Transmission can occur directly from animal to animal through feces, urine or saliva or through the ingestion of prions deposited in the environment by infected deer.
The term prion, first coined in 1982, describes an abnormal rogue protein. These are the suspected causative agent of CWD and related diseases, not the more familiar virus and bacterial vectors that threaten health.
Scrapie has a 200-year-long history of attacking domestic sheep and goats, cattle can be plagued by bovine spongiform encephalopathy known as “mad cow disease,” and transmissible mink encephalopathy infects farmed mink.
Not knowing any favorites, nature also tossed in a few TSEs that can affect humans. One of those is CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease). It’s rare, impacting about one in every one million folks on the planet. One of its variants, v-CJD, was made famous when it was thought to have jumped species and was associated with the large-scale outbreak of mad cow disease in Great Britain’s cattle herds.
While not the only malady that faces wild and domestic deer, CWD is very contagious within the species and can jeopardize herd health. Infected deer suffer emaciation, display abnormal behavior, lose bodily functions, and eventually die. Only four species of the deer family are known to be naturally impacted: elk, mule deer, whitetail deer and moose.
If you think that it’s only wildlife biologists and outdoor lovers who are concerned about CWD, you’re wrong. The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control continue to study the disease. During the period of 1997-98, medical cases developed in the U.S. involving three people who had eaten venison. They acquired one of the related diseases, CJD.
This scare led to the speculation that the disease may have occurred after the consumption of infected venison. However, review of the clinical and pathological studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, did not find a link to CWD. The fact that they’d each consumed a venison meal was coincidental and not a factor.
While there’s no evidence that the disease can make the jump to humans, despite the similarity it may have to mad cow disease (the two are distinctly different), public health officials recommend that human exposure be avoided.
First, it’s good to know a few statistics and understand the risks. According to cwd-info.org, “In areas where CWD occurs, only a relatively small number of animals are infected. Even in the parts of Wyoming and Colorado where chronic wasting disease has existed for at least 30 years, an average of less than six percent of deer are infected. Infection rates in affected deer herds in Colorado vary from less than 1 percent to 13 percent.”
Hunters are encouraged not to consume meat from animals known to be infected. They should take a few common-sense precautions when field dressing and processing deer or elk taken in areas where CWD has been confirmed. Experts offer this advice:
• Don’t shoot or handle the carcass of a deer that’s been acting abnormally or appears to be sick.
• Wear rubber gloves while field-dressing and minimize the use of a bone saw when cutting through the brain or backbone. It’s best to bone out the venison.
• Avoid handling the brain, spinal cord tissues, eyes, spleen or lymph nodes.
• Wash your hands thoroughly after dressing and processing.
• Properly dispose of a deer carcass. Double-bag all high-risk parts (brain, spinal cord, eyes, and lymphoid tissues) and dispose of them with your household trash.
• Be aware of carcass import laws. It’s illegal to bring high-risk carcass parts into Ohio from anywhere outside the state.
• Contact an Ohio Division of Wildlife district office or state wildlife officer if you see a deer that appears sick, is acting abnormally, or has a visible ear tag.
While CWD has been detected in some captive deer herds in Ohio, it has not yet been identified in our wild population and our state’s free-roaming herd is quite healthy. The Division of Wildlife continues to closely monitor high-risk areas for any sign of the disease jumping the fence.
Special hunting regulations are in effect in Holmes and Tuscarawas counties so if you are hunting these areas, take these precautions seriously. Those laws are there to protect you and to maintain the health of Ohio’s deer herd.
“That’s the world out there, little green apples and infectious disease.” — Don DeLillo, “The Angel Esmeralda”
Along the way:
Have your neighbors been whispering that you have bats in your belfry? If so, the Division of Wildlife has some suggestions to clean up your neighborly image.
If bats have figured out a way to get into your home over the summer, September and October are the best months to find a solution. Since they usually use the same roosts each year, ignoring the problem will likely see them moving back in next spring like a ne’er-do-well cousin looking for a bed. As Ben Franklin advised, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Since many populations of bats are in trouble and it’s illegal to kill them, the recommended form of exclusion is some type of one-way door. When attached to their entry points, this allows the bats to leave on their own at night to forage, but does not allow them to get back inside the house.
Because bats can fit into spaces as small as 3/8″, it’s recommended you hire a professional to perform a bat exclusion and bat-proof your home. Find a list of licensed nuisance control operators here: http://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/species-and-habitats/nuisance-wildlife
• Today and Sunday: Merle Foust Memorial 30-target 3-D deer season warm-up archery shoot. Registration opens at 8 a.m. Range-finders are permitted and today’s participants can reshoot on Sunday for half price. Field and Stream Bowhunters, 11400 Allen Township 109. For information contact Harold Spence, 419-423-9861.
• Sunday: IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association) shoot. Registration opens at 9 a.m., competition at 10 a.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243.
• Wednesday: Full Draw Bowhunting Film Tour, doors open 6 p.m., films begin at 7 p.m., Drexel Theater, 2254 E. Main St., Columbus. Enjoy the spectacular scenery found during elk, whitetail, moose and pronghorn hunts from around the nation. $12, $6 for kids 12 and under. Call 614-888-4868 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
• Saturday, Sept. 28: Elkhorn Lake Hunt Club family field day, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. This rain or shine event is free. Parents or guardians are required to attend. Teens 15 and older may attend with parental permission and signed liability waiver. Elkhorn Lake Hunt Club, 4146 Klopfenstein Road, Bucyrus. For additional details visit www.elkhornlakehuntclub.com
• Saturday, Sept. 28: Ohio’s Deer Archery Season opens.
• Hunter and trapper education class information, options, locations and registration information is available at http://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov
Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay. He can be reached at P.O. Box 413, Mount Blanchard, OH 45867-0413 or via email at email@example.com