Over the recent years there been more and more chatter about CWD due to the increased studies and overall general knowledge made available to the public. As knowledge has increased, many states over the last decade have introduced specific regulations around CWD and harvested cervids to help the potential spreading of CWD. However, the ultimate question lying beyond big game herd health in CWD areas is CAN HUMANS SAFELY CONSUME CWD INFECTED ANIMALS? While each hunter should ultimately make that decision for his or her owns person, let's take a look at some of the facts around CWD and infected animals.
WHAT IS CWD
CWD is the acronym for Chronic Wasting Disease and can infect cervids (deer, elk, and moose) across their global habitat. CWD is caused by prions or glyco proteins that affect other protein cells by altering their cellular shape or makeup throughout the infected cervids organs. These mis-shaped protein cells or prions cannot be processed, eliminated, or detox by the cervids body thus they continue to build and compile causing neurological damage. CWD is 100% fatal once contracted.
WHERE DID CWD COME FROM
There are alot of different opinions on the origins of CWD. Some are as far fetched as it was created by the government and insurance agencies for population control. Other folks believe CWD is simply a product of nature and has been around since cervids have been walking the earth. Regardless of where you fall in your opinion, we do know the first official documented case was in 1967, found in a captive deer facility located in Colorado. It was first found in free ranging elk during the 1980s. Currently, we have confirmed CWD cases in 30 U.S. states, with 12 new states being confirmed over the last decade.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS
At this point, we've all seen the viral videos on social of a whitetail acting like a fool, walking in circles, stumbling, etc, in broad daylight. Quite frankly, it's a sad sight to see. Some of the visual symptoms you can see in deer and elk are listed below.
- drastic weight loss (wasting)
- lack of coordination.
- excessive thirst or urination.
- drooping ears.
- lack of fear of people.
HOW DOES IT SPREAD
When learning of how CWD spreads, it becomes really scary with a bleak future of ever really containing or stopping it. According to multiple documentations of research, CWD proteins (prions) spread between animals through body fluids like feces, saliva, blood, or urine, either through direct contact or indirectly through environmental contamination of soil, food or water. Once introduced into an area, the CWD protein is contagious within deer and elk populations and has the potential to spread quickly. Experts believe CWD prions can remain in the environment for a long periods of time, so other animals can contract CWD from the environment even after an infected deer or elk has died.
With post death transmission possible through contaminated soils and waters state wildlife officials have taken note to add restrictive laws to limit exposures. Regulations on baiting and game recovery have been implemented however deer and elk are social creatures by nature, and it's impossible to limit their natural behaviors.
Whitetails, for example, often communicate through scrapes, rubs, etc all where bodily fluids are left as a communication indicators. They also tend to congregate in and around food sources. Elk are the same but also herd animals which adds the severity of transmission speeds. So even with added regulations, does it really make a difference? This is what hunters, farmers, and sportsman are up against.
IS IT SAFE TO CONSUME
While humans are susceptible to other prion born diseases CWD is not one of them. According to the CDC, CWD has been transmitted to other mammals with similar human genetic makeup, below is a quote directly from the CCD...
"The CWD prion has been shown to experimentally infect squirrel monkeys, and also laboratory mice that carry some human genes. An additional study begun in 2009 by Canadian and German scientists, which has not yet been published in the scientific literature, is evaluating whether CWD can be transmitted to macaques—a type of monkey that is genetically closer to people than any other animal that has been infected with CWD previously. On July 10, 2017, the scientists presented a summary of the study’s progress in which they showed that CWD was transmitted to monkeys that were fed infected meat (muscle tissue) or brain tissue from CWD-infected deer and elk. Some of the meat came from asymptomatic deer that had CWD (i.e., deer that appeared healthy and had not begun to show signs of the illness yet). Meat from these asymptomatic deer was also able to infect the monkeys with CWD. CWD was also able to spread to macaques that had the infectious material placed directly into their brains."
Documented research has shown that the specific prion causing CWD can not be transfer to humans through the consume of meat, contact with bodily fluids, or any other contact. However, out of the other side of their mouth, by large the science community consistently states CWD infected cervids should not be consumed by human. So where does that leave us?
With CWD affected states, there have been specific protocols introduced for data collection to better understand the disease and to ensure properly handling to help eliminate the spread of CWD. With those protocols, many states will often issue a replacement tag with confirmation of a positive sample, leaving the consumption decision on the hunter.
With all of our content our goal is to help inform and educate all hunters, this topic is no different. While CWD may be old news to you, we urge everyone to do some further due diligence, not only to help them make a better informed decision on the consumption of harvested animals but also to help slow the spread.