Chronic wasting disease continuously grabs the media’s attention, and hunters are stuck wondering how serious this disease actually is. Learn more about the facts of chronic wasting disease and the areas where the disease is concentrated.

Chronic wasting disease is an infectious disease closely linked to mad cow disease, and could potentially spread to humans. CWD is an infectious neurological disease in the same family of prion diseases as mad cow disease and scrapie that proves fatal for the animal infected. Chronic wasting disease has been seen in mule deer for more than 40 years, but Whitetail Deer, Shiras moose, and Rocky Mountain Elk are also naturally susceptible.

The CDC and other disease prevention organizations have been researching CWD and whether or not it is susceptible to humans and so far results are inconclusive. It is possible that it could be spread to humans, but no cases have been documented. There is currently no treatment for animals that have chronic wasting disease, and the outcome is always fatal. It causes characteristic spongy degeneration of the brain of infected animals. Symptoms include drastic weight loss, lethargy, stumbling, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions, and ultimately death. These symptoms may take up to a year after contracting the disease to appear.

Chronic wasting disease is mostly concentrated in Midwest regions such as Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska. Since CWD surveillance has increased, it has been found in other areas of the country as well. The exact cause of transmission is unknown, but it is thought to spread in feces, urine, and/or saliva. The movement of animals is one of the greatest risk factors of the disease spreading to new areas.

Since researchers are unsure whether or not this disease can be spread to humans, it is important to follow the proper precautions when dealing with an infected animal. Hunters need to be cautious when hunting in infected areas because, as the World Health Organization advises, it needs to stay away from the human food chain to prevent contraction. If this disease can be spread to humans eating infected meat would likely contract it. Check state and wildlife health guidelines to see if testing the animal is required or recommended.

Tests can come out negative even if the meat is contaminated, so it is important to follow proper guidelines while hunting in infected areas:

  1. Never shoot, handle or eat meat from an animal that looks sick or is acting strange.
  2. Wear latex gloves when dressing the animal and avoid handling the organs as much as possible especially the brain and spinal cord.
  3. Have the meat tested before eating it, and do not eat meat that tests positive for CWD