JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Last week, the Missouri Conservation Commission approved new recommendations intended to stop the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD), a disease fatal to deer, elk and other cervids.
While the plans are not yet fully implemented, they would call for more extensive testing of deer harvested by hunters in CWD management zones. These zones consist of all counties in a 25-mile radius the discovery of a deer with the disease.
So far, diseased individuals have been found in Macon, Adair, Cole, and Franklin Counties.
The regulations would also prohibit the feeding of deer and the use of attractants like grain and other types of feed as well as salt or other mineral products. These materials cause deer to congregate and potentially allow a diseased individual spread it to others more easily.
However, the recommendations have not been finalized yet. The full regulations will be released Jan. 1, 2016 and a public comment period will take place from Jan. 16 to Feb. 14. With that said, Jasmine Batten, a wildlife health specialist and the CWD surveillance coordinator for the Department, is confident that thanks to past work Missouri’s hunters these recommendations will be approved.
“In earlier public meetings, there has been support from hunters to increase our sampling size because they want to be aware of where our diseased populations are,” Batten said.
While only 27 out of over 47,000 deer tested since 2003 have been found to have CWD and that the disease is likely new to the state, Batten adds that these new regulations need to go into place because CWD is that dangerous.
“I think we can safely say the disease is relatively new in the area, but because the consequences of the disease to the long term health of our deer is very serious,” she said.
The disease is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE), like scrapie in sheep, mad cow disease in cattle, and Kuru and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans. All TSEs attack the brain and spinal cord, slowly causing the to degenerate until the infected individual dies. Symptoms during this period include anorexia, lethargy, behavioral changes, and impaired motor function. It is 100 percent fatal with no vaccine, cure or treatment. While there is no direct evidence that CWD can infect humans because of a possible species barrier between all varieties of TSEs, mad cow disease has made the jump to humans to become known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob.
Hunters are urged as a precaution not to eat venison from a deer or elk with CWD, though there are no confirmed cases that eating that flesh will cause the disease.
The Department of Conservation also asks that hunters that harvest deer from management zones not to transport deer carcasses out of the zone and to report any sick or injured looking deer to MDC staff.