For many hunters, the deer hunting season each year from about August 15th to December 31st is a time of old traditions and family bonding. Father and son often head out into the woods together to find that elusive white tail buck. Deer hunters respect the animals. Every bit of meat on the animals is used for food and never wasted. However, Chronic Wasting Disease threatens this way of life and this time-honored tradition for American hunters.
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is "a transmissible neurological disease of deer and elk that produces small lesions in brains of infected animals." Several effects of CWD are loss of body condition, behavioral abnormalities, and death. It is a similar disease to "mad cow" disease in cattle. CWD can be found in the states shown in Figure 1 below:.
Figure 1: The areas shown in blue are states and provinces where CWD has been found in deer and/or elk populations. *courtesy of www.cwd-info.org.
The disease is spread by neither a virus nor bacteria but by prions, which are infectious proteins that lack associated nucleic acids. The disease has been found in about 2-3% of Wisconsin's deer population. See Figure 2 for a picture of a mule deer infected by CWD. There is little information on how the disease is spread, however most scientists believe it is by direct animal to animal contact.
Figure 2: Mule deer infected by CWD. *courtesy of www.cwd-info.org.
Despite the fact that CWD is a contagious and fatal disease among these deer species, scientists claim that humans have a natural immunity to the transmission of the disease. Concern still remains among hunters, even though there have been no human cases of CWD.
The state the CWD is most prevalent in has been Wisconsin. The 2002 hunting season was the first sign of this disease. Few people in Wisconsin other than game biologists and veterinarians even recognized the significance of this disease. As more and more information was released to the public, widespread panic started to spread among deer hunters and the Wisconsin state Department of Natural Resources.