Chronic Wasting Disease, which is also referred to as CWD, is bad news in the deer community. No one wants to stumble across and infected deer because simply seeing it is a clear indicator that CWD is on the move and has made it do your area. The disease itself is fatal to infected deer and is in a category of illness known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). CWD affects all members of the cervid family and has been making appearances in Michigan deer, the fourth of which was killed less than a month ago.
Meridian Township marks the location of the three previous deer infected with Chronic Wasting Disease, all of which were part of an extended family group with the first deer being discovered in April. This fourth deer, however, a buck aged at 1 1/2 years old, was killed in DeWitt Township. This is a significant discovery as although the townships of Meridian and DeWitt are close to one another, it is clear that the disease is spreading.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has been making an effort to contain if not eradicate Chronic Wasting Disease. This year alone 3,000 deer have been tested thanks to hunters willing to allow testing of their harvested cervids. Testing for most of Michigan is voluntary but strongly encouraged due to the useful information that can be garnered from it, but there are parts of Michigan where testing is mandatory. Testing is required in the CWD core area which is made up of nine townships, those being Alaiedon, Bath, Delhi, DeWitt, Lansing, Meridian, Wheatfield, Williamstown and Woodhull. Beyond those nine townships, three counties are designated as a CWD management zone. Those counties are Clinton, Ingham, and Shiawassee. Since the disease is on the move, you may want to stay abreast of its progress and potential regulation changes by following all CWD related news here.
If you plan to hunt in areas with CWD regulations imposed by the Michigan DNR, there are some things you should know:
1. Deer harvested in the core area must be submitted in entirety to an approved check station where the head will be taken for examination of brain stem and/or lymphatic tissue. Do not remove any part of the carcass before this is done. If the disease is found, you will be notified by phone. If not, the results will be posted online.
2. You can transport de-boned meat, antlers, hide, and skull cap once cleaned of all brain tissue. Nothing should be left on in the field as the disease is spread through prions that are present in the brain and spinal column. When parts are left, healthy deer can be infected. Dispose of excess via DNR specified dumpster, garbage service, or landfill.
3. Even if you are not hunting, keep an eye out for infected deer in the core area. This could come in the form of roadkill which should be reported immediately to the DNR Wildlife Disease Hotline at 517-614-9602. Leave a message with all relevant information, such as location, and the carcass will be retrieved.
In order to protect yourself while handling a potential CWD deer, always take precautionary measures. This means wearing gloves, de-boning meat, and washing hands thoroughly. Be sure not only to minimize the handling of spinal and brain tissue as well as eyes, spleen, tonsils, and lymph nodes, but also avoid consuming these parts. Although there has not yet been a case of humans contracting CWD, we are affected by the similar prions that cause bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or mad cow disease), so concern does exist that CWD could at some point become a human problem.
A deer with CWD may live for quite some time with no physical signs of the disease, so it is important to take care when handling any and all deer from the core zones. It is only through testing and examination of the brain stem and/or lymphatic tissue that the disease can be positively identified, so caution is best. Once a deer becomes symptomatic, death is soon to follow. This includes a phsysical appearance that is underweight, salivates excessively, and appears disoriented. You may also notice tremors, stumbling, grinding of teeth, and walking in repetitive patterns. To avoid spreading the disease amongst other deer as well as putting yourself at risk, stay up to date on CWD news by visiting here. With a little luck, this disease will have a limited impact, but there is no way to know for certain, therefore we must be vigilant in our deer encounters.