By William O’Leary
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a fatal prion disease found in deer and elk similar to mad cow disease. Prions are transmissible protein viruses. The disease attacks the brain and nervous system, causing deer to become emaciated, display abnormal behavior, lose coordination and eventually die in about two years. Ninety-three percent of deer that have been tested positive in Illinois appeared healthy for nearly two years, long enough to reproduce.
CWD can be passed by contact with or ingestion of infected body fluids (saliva, blood and urine). Prions from decomposing infected carcasses and body wastes may remain in the soils for many years. There has never been an instance of people contracting the disease from eating meat from infected deer. A World Health Organization panel of experts conclude that there is no scientific evidence that CWD can infect humans. The prion that causes CWD accumulates in the brain, eyes, spinal cord, lymph nodes, tonsils and spleen. There is no evidence that CWD can be transmitted to cattle, sheep or other livestock.
IDNR (Illinois Department of Natural Resources) has implemented some good regulations (and one very bad action) to help control CWD. When field dressing deer:
• Wear rubber gloves.
• Bone out the meat.
• Minimize handling of brain and spinal tissues.
• Wash hands and instruments thoroughly after.
• Avoid consuming brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils and lymph nodes.
• Dispose of inedible parts properly.
IDNR bans feeding of deer or placing salt blocks in other than domestic livestock areas.
The “very bad action” was to hire sharpshooters to reduce the size of deer herds in 10 northern Illinois counties to near extinction. Nature may provide the same natural immunity that the Black Plague survivors did for the following generation in Europe. Perhaps the offspring of CWD-infected deer will develop immunity to the CWD prion. The money spent to hire sharpshooters would have been better spent on research on the disease. I believe the IDNR sharpshooter program may have ended as Gov. Pat Quinn eliminated the IDNR Forestry budget, putting hundreds of people out of work in forestry alone.
William O’Leary is a retired educator with masters’ degrees in administration and geology, with concentration in science electives. He and his wife, Nancy, have 16.79 acres dedicated to IDNR forestry.
From the April 18-24, 2012, issue