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White-Tailed Buck

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – There have been several reported cases of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in parts of the Southeast, including Mississippi and Tennessee. CWD is a neurodegenerative disease that affects cervids such as white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, moose and caribou. While there are not any reported cases in Alabama, it is important for outdoor enthusiast to know about this disease.

What is CWD?

Chronic wasting disease causes degeneration of brain cells, that continually gets worse over time. It is similar to the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) found in cattle. There is currently no treatment for CWD and all cases are fatal. There have been no known cases of humans contracting this disease. However, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that humans not consume meat from a deer with CWD.

Cases of CWD

Map showing known cases of chronic wasting disease in North America. Map produced by the United States Geological Survey, National Wildlife Health Center, December 2018. (Credit: Bryan Richards, USGS, National Wildlife Health Center)

Figure 1. Known cases of chronic wasting disease in North America. Map
produced by the United States Geological Survey, National Wildlife Health Center,
December 2018. (Credit: Bryan Richards, USGS, National Wildlife Health Center)

Mark Smith, an Alabama Extension specialist and professor of forestry, wildlife and natural resources, said that CWD has been around for a while, but the major spread of the disease has been relatively recent.

“Although it has been around since the late 1960’s, the alarming trend is that it’s been only in the past 15-20 years where it has really spread to several states (21 states since 2001),” Smith said. “In localized areas where CWD has been around for a while, say 10 years, the number of cases can be quite high (20-40% positive). But for the most part CWD itself is not a rapidly spreading disease, per se.”

Symptoms

Smith said there are several symptoms of CWD that people can look for.

“Some signs of CWD include deer that are not “acting normal”, appear to have lost a significant amount of weight, have difficulty moving or standing or display tremors,” Smith said. “Keep in mind there could be other reasons such as injuries or other diseases that may cause these same symptoms.”

The disease is most commonly detected in adult deer, but be aware that all ages are susceptible. Symptoms of CWD include:

  • weight loss over time and the animal appearing thin and weak
  • lack of wariness (caution about possible dangers)
  • difficulty moving or standing
  • lowering of the head
  • tremors
  • listlessness
  • excessive salivation and urination

Prevention

The key to preventing the spread of CWD is to follow a few simple guidelines.

  1. Follow the law. The Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries has established laws regarding the movement of deer carcasses and body parts into Alabama to help prevent the spread of CWD.
  2. Assist in monitoring. The Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries has voluntary check stations to collect brain stem and lymph node samples to monitor CWD. You can also report a deer that appears to be sick or diseased by calling your regional Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division office or by submitting a sick deer report online.
  3. Report any transport of live deer, elk or other cervids on Alabama’s roads and highways by calling Operation Game Watch at (800) 272-4263.
  4. Keep up to date on laws and regulations. As CWD continues to spread across surrounding states and the Southeast, laws and regulations will continually change to meet the challenges of containing the disease. It will be important to keep up to date on these changes.

More Information

Alabama Extension has the publication “Chronic Wasting Disease” that goes into more detail about the disease. For further information, contact your county Extension office.

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