Conservation Department FAQs on chronic wasting disease

Friday, February 26, 2010 | 10:13 a.m. CST; updated 3:20 p.m. CST, Saturday, February 27, 2010

COLUMBIA — State officials reported Thursday that a captive white-tailed deer in northeast Missouri has tested positive for chronic wasting disease. Here are frequently asked questions — and answers — about chronic wasting disease from the Missouri Department of Conservation.

What is chronic wasting disease?
Chronic wasting disease belongs to a group of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies that cause a degeneration of the brain in deer, elk and moose.

Chronic wasting disease has been documented in moose, as well as in wild and captive mule deer, white-tailed deer and elk. It has been found in captive and free-ranging populations of deer and elk in 15 states and two Canadian provinces, including Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

A map showing the general locations where the disease has been found in free-ranging deer, elk and moose in other states is available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

When was chronic wasting disease discovered?
In 1967, the disease was first detected in deer in the northeast portion of Colorado.

Where is chronic wasting disease found today?
A captive white-tailed deer in northeast Missouri recently tested positive for the disease. The Missouri Department of Conservation will be testing free-ranging deer in the vicinity of the captive deer that tested positive.

With the help of hunters, the Department of Conservation tested more than 22,000 deer from all 114 counties in the state between 2002 and 2004. All tests were negative. With the conclusion of the sampling program in 2004, surveillance efforts shifted to sampling sick deer reported by the public. In 2007, a three-year program of testing began in which one-third of the state was sampled annually. In 2007 and 2008, more than 1,200 samples were collected in each of the northern and central thirds of the state, respectively. In 2009, a similar number of samples were collected in the southern zone. To date, the Department of Conservation has tested more than 24,000 free-ranging deer, and no cases of chronic wasting disease have been found.

How is chronic wasting disease spread?
Chronic wasting disease can come into a state through the natural movement of wild deer and elk or via the interstate shipment of hunter-harvested or captive white-tailed deer, mule deer or elk. Once the disease is established, it spreads from one animal to another through animal-to-animal contact or soil-to-animal contact.

What is Missouri doing to protect the state against chronic wasting disease?

The Missouri Department of Conservation and the Missouri Department of Agriculture are working together to help keep deer and elk from infected areas out of Missouri and to examine sources of infection that could already exist in the state. The Department of Conservation will continue to test deer that appear sick and to monitor the health of the state’s deer herd by collecting samples from sick deer reported by the public. Captive deer and elk herds in Missouri are monitored through a surveillance program.

The agriculture and conservation departments formed a state Cervid Health Committee in 2002 to ensure broad input into our state's efforts to manage the risks associated with chronic wasting disease. This task force is composed of veterinarians, animal health officers and conservation officers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Missouri Department of Agriculture, Missouri Department of Conservation and the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services. They are working together to mitigate challenges associated with chronic wasting disease. The task force will continue to incorporate new information into monitoring programs and ensure the public has access to the most up-to-date information.

What are the symptoms of chronic wasting disease?
Deer or elk with the disease show changes in natural behavior and can exhibit extreme weight loss, excessive salivation, stumbling and tremors. Chronic wasting disease is thought to always be fatal to the infected animal, but it can take months or years before the symptoms of infection appear.

How is the disease diagnosed?
Chronic wasting disease can only be confirmed by laboratory examination of brain or lymph tissue. Scientists are working on a number of approaches that may in the future provide a test that can be used on both live deer and elk.

Can people get chronic wasting disease from infected deer or elk?
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services
states there is no evidence that chronic wasting disease can infect people. Chronic wasting disease is not viewed as a human-health issue.

Can livestock get the disease from infected deer or elk?
The Missouri Department of Agriculture states thatthere is no evidence that chronic wasting disease can spread from infected deer or elk to other livestock, such as sheep or cattle.

What can the public do to help?
The Missouri Department of Conservation continues to test sick deer for chronic wasting disease. If you observe or harvest a sickly deer, please contact your nearest conservation office.

Should hunters take precautions when field dressing or processing deer meat?
Again, there is no evidence that chronic wasting disease affects humans. We have always advised hunters concerned about any disease or parasite that they might have to wear rubber gloves while field dressing and processing deer.

What if I hunt deer or elk out-of-state?
According to a new provision to the wildlife code, the importation, transportation or possession of cervid carcasses or cervid carcass parts taken from or obtained outside of Missouri is prohibited, except for meat that is cut and wrapped;
meat that has been boned out; quarters or other portions of meat with no part of the spinal column or head attached; hides or capes from which all excess tissue has been removed; antlers; antlers attached to skull plates or skulls cleaned of all muscle and brain tissue; upper canine teeth; and finished taxidermy products. Carcasses or parts of carcasses with the spinal column or head attached may be transported into the State only if they are taken to a licensed meat processor or taxidermist within 72 hours of entry. Licensed meat processors and taxidermist shall dispose of the discarded tissue in a properly permitted landfill.

For more information contact:
The Missouri Department of Conservation
P.O. Box 180
Jefferson City, Mo 65101

The Missouri Department of Agriculture
Division of Animal Health
1616 Missouri Boulevard
Jefferson City, Mo 65101

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services
Section of Communicable Disease Control and Veterinary Public Health
930 Wildwood Drive
Jefferson City, MO 65109

More information on the disease can be found at the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance's Web site.

SOURCE: Missouri Department of Conservation

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