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Chronic Wasting Disease Now Detected In 32 States

Chronic wasting disease is slowly spreading through the US - county by county, state by state. In July 2022 it had been detected in deer, moose, or elk in 30 states, and by December 2023 in 32 states.

In December 2023, it was detected in Kentucky in a white-tailed buck that a hunter killed. Chronic wasting disease (CWD) has now been found in deer in 6 of the 7 states bordering Kentucky. [CDC map]

Chronic wasting disease is an always fatal neurologic disease that can occur in cervids (deer, elk, moose, reindeer). It is a prion disease similar to "mad cow disease" (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) in cattle and Creutzfeldt-Jakob's disease in humans. There is no vaccine, treatment, or cure for the disease.

So far there is no evidence that CWD has crossed over to humans. But extra caution should be taken. Don't eat meat from infected deer or moose. Hunters should follow state precautions in field dressing and butchering, and have the meat tested for CWD. [CDC site for CWD]

How is it spread? Scientists believe CWD prions spread between animals through body fluids (e.g., feces, saliva, blood, or urine), either through direct contact or indirectly through environmental contamination of soil, food or water. Once introduced into an area or farm, the CWD prion (protein) is contagious within deer and elk populations and spreads.

Once CWD gets into the soil, it stays there for years, and so animals can contract it even after infected deer and elk have died. Recent research found that plants uptake the prions where it remains infectious. Yikes!

How do you get rid of it? Unfortunately, high heat, disinfectants, and radiation don't kill the CWD prions. Dr.Zabel at the Colorado State Univ. Prion Research Center suggested a few years ago that controlled burns (fires) of infected fields or areas could eliminate the prions left behind by infected animals (from animal mucus/saliva, urine, and feces, and decaying carcasses) on plants and soil.

A concerning study. From Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) : Plants can take up CWD-causing prions from soil in the lab. What happens if they are eaten?

From Feb, 2024 article, CIDRAP: Kentucky reports first case of chronic wasting disease

From CIDRAP: Nebraska reports 31 CWD cases as infection spreads to 3 additional counties

From National Park Service news release about CWD detected in Yellowstone Park, with additional information for tourists visiting park: Mule deer tests positive for chronic wasting disease in Yellowstone National Park

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