Chronic Wasting Disease Updates

By Jeff Rebitski, Staff Writer

The 2022 game season is almost upon us and the concerns are growing about the presence of Chronic Wasting Disease. Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a chronic, fatal disease of the central nervous system in mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, and moose. CWD belongs to the group of rare diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). These disorders are caused by abnormally folded proteins called “prions.”

The scary sounding disease is out there, but to date has had no impact on a human but has been shown to affect carnivorous primates thereby establishing concerns about the potential transmission to humans. The CDC or Center for Disease Control, World Health Organization, (WHO) and Wyoming Health Department (WHD) have all agreed that an animal found to be positive for CWD “Should Not” be consumed. 

CWD was first identified in free-ranging mule deer in southeastern Wyoming in 1985, followed by elk in 1986. Based on early surveillance data and prevalence estimates, a small area in southeastern Wyoming containing the Laramie Mountain mule deer herd, South Converse mule deer herd, Goshen Rim mule deer herd and Laramie Peak elk herd was termed the “core endemic area” where we believe that CWD has been present for the longest period of time. Over the past 20 years, surveillance data has shown an increase in prevalence and distribution of CWD in Wyoming, particularly in deer.  CWD is now found across the majority of the state, with new detections suggesting continued westward spread of the disease. 

State public health officials and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department recommend taking the following simple precautions when handling deer or elk carcasses where CWD occurs.

• Hunters should not harvest or eat wild animals that appear sick

• Wear rubber or latex gloves as a routine precaution when field dressing

• Minimize handling of the brain and spinal cord tissues

• When butchering, meat should be boned out

• Wash hands and instruments after handling and field dressing

• Consider quartering and freezing meat until CWD results are available     

• For disinfecting utensils of the prion protein, soak in sodium hypochlorite, also recognized as household bleach, with less than 2% of free chlorine at a 40% solution with water for a minimum of 5 minutes  Remove any tissue pieces from utensils before soaking.  Rinse utensils after soaking to remove the bleach. 

Test Results:  Hunters who participate in the Wyoming Game and Fish’s CWD surveillance program by providing deer, elk, or moose tissue samples and provide adequate information, can obtain test results at the link below.  In most cases, testing is completed within three weeks.  Hunters, whose animals test positive for CWD, will be notified by mail and those hunters may dispose of the meat without violating any laws concerning the waste of game meat.  Meat should be properly disposed of in an approved municipal landfill. 

Testing your game animal for CWD: 

“This is a serious concern” says Rene L. Schell, Lander Region Information and Education Specialist, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, “but there is a great deal of information out there for everyone to be aware of.” Check the Game and Fish website for updates and all the information you will need to have a safe and effective hunting season. 

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