Deer hunting season is in full swing and Dexter’s neighbor to the northwest, Ingham County, is ground zero for Chronic Wasting Disease plaguing Michigan’s deer population.
The disease is spreading. There is no cure. Here are the basics that you need to know.
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a neurological disease found in deer, elk, and moose; otherwise known as cervids. The disease attacks the brains of infected animals and produces small lesions that result in death. CWD is similar to mad cow disease in cattle and scrapie in sheep.
Current scientific understanding suggests it may be transmitted both directly from animal to animal contact as well as indirectly through a contaminated environment. Previous studies have shown that CWD prions exist in the saliva, urine, blood, and feces of infected cervids. Additionally, a study from the University of Wisconsin suggests that the CWD prion can remain indefinitely in certain types of soil, and binding to soil dramatically increases the infectiousness of CWD prions.
In North America, a total of 24 states and 2 Canadian Provinces have found CWD in either free-ranging or captive animals. In Michigan, CWD was confirmed in August 2008 at a Kent County deer farm. In April 2015, a female, six-year-old, free-ranging white-tailed deer in Ingham County was exhibiting symptoms consistent with CWD. The doe was euthanized and tested positive for CWD. Since then, more cases have been documented among the free ranging population of Ingham County.
The DNR and MDARD are following the steps outlined in the Michigan Surveillance and Response Plan for Chronic Wasting Disease in free-ranging deer and privately owned cervid facilities, which was developed in 2002 and revised in 2012 to address this nationally emerging disease. Since the development of the plan, MDARD and DNR have had a surveillance program in place to detect CWD in privately owned or free-ranging cervids.
- Completing a population survey in the areas where CWD-positive deer have been found.
- Establishing a new Core CWD Area, which will continue to be referred to as Deer Management Unit (DMU) 333, consisting of Lansing, Meridian, Williamstown, Delhi, Alaiedon, and Wheatfield townships in Ingham County; DeWitt , Bath, Watertown, Eagle, Westphalia, Riley, Olive, and Victor townships in Clinton County; Woodhull Township in Shiawassee County; Oneida, Roxand, and Delta townships in Eaton County; and Portland and Danby townships in Ionia County. Mandatory checking of deer will be required in this area during hunting seasons and restrictions will apply to the movement of carcasses and parts of deer taken in this area.
- Creating a new CWD Management Zone, named DMU 419, which will now include all of Clinton, Eaton, Ingham, Ionia, and Shiawassee counties.
- Establishing a new Core CWD Area within DMU 354, which will be referred to as Deer Management Unit (DMU) 359 – consisting of Mecosta, Austin, Morton, Hinton, Aetna, and Deerfield townships in Mecosta County, and Cato, Winfield, and Reynolds townships in Montcalm County.
- Implementing a deer and elk feeding and baiting ban, which will include the Core CWD Area and the larger five-county CWD Management Zone.
Research shows CWD-infected deer are more likely to be hit by vehicles because of their illness. DNR staff is working with local officials to collect fresh road-killed deer in the 20-township Core CWD Area surrounding the infected deer. Those deer will be sent to the DNR Wildlife Disease Laboratory for testing.
CWD has never been shown to cause illness in humans. For more than two decades CWD has been present in free-ranging populations of mule deer and elk in Colorado. During this time, there has been no known occurrence of a human contracting any disease from eating CWD infected meat. However, public health officials recommend that people and domestic animals not consume meat from deer that test CWD-positive. Some simple precautions should be taken when field dressing deer in the CWD Management Zone:
- Wear rubber gloves when field dressing your deer.
- Bone out the meat from your deer.
- Minimize the handling of brain and spinal tissues.
- Wash hands and instruments thoroughly after field dressing is completed.
- Avoid consuming brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils and lymph nodes of harvested animals. (Normal field dressing coupled with boning out of a carcass will essentially remove all of these parts.)
- Request that your animal is processed individually, without meat from other animals being added to meat from your animal.
Infected animals may not show any symptoms of the disease for a long period of time, even years. Nevertheless, they are infectious to other cervids. In the later stages of the disease infected animals begin to lose bodily functions and display abnormal behavior such as staggering. Animals may have an exaggerated wide posture, or may carry the head and ears lowered. Infected animals become very emaciated (thus wasting disease) and will appear in very poor body condition. Infected animals will also often stand near water. Drooling or excessive salivation may be apparent. Note that these symptoms may also be characteristic of diseases other than CWD.
If you happen to see a deer exhibiting the symptoms of CWD, you should accurately document the location of the animal and immediately call the Report All Poach (RAP) Line (1-800-292-7800). Do not attempt to contact, disturb, kill, or remove the animal.
For more information on CWD, please visit www.michigan.gov/cwd.