Forestry & Wildlife
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been increasingly affecting deer in parts of the Southeastern United States over the last several years. While previously undetected in Alabama, the first case of this neurodegenerative disease was recently discovered in the state.
According to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), the positive case was detected in a white-tailed deer in west-central Lauderdale County.
“CWD was first detected in Tennessee and Mississippi in 2018 and has been moving slowly toward Alabama,” said Chris Blankenship, ADCNR commissioner. “The Department has implemented multiple proactive regulations to combat the spread into Alabama. Compliance from the public on those measures helped delay the spread into the state for several years.”
What is chronic wasting disease?
CWD affects cervids such as white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, moose and caribou. Mark Smith, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System wildlife specialist, said the disease causes degeneration of brain cells that continually gets worse over time.
“It is similar to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) found in cattle,” Smith said. “There is currently no treatment for CWD and all cases are fatal.”
There may be an extended period of time where a CWD-positive deer may not show outward symptoms. However, as the disease progresses, Smith said there are several symptoms that people can look for. Overall, look for deer that are acting abnormally.
“Some signs of CWD in deer include significant weight loss, difficulty moving/standing and 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 most commonly found in adult deer, but be aware that all ages are susceptible. Symptoms of CWD include the following:
- weight loss over time and the animal appearing thin and weak
- lack of wariness (acting tame or calm)
- difficulty moving or standing
- lowering of the head
- excessive salivation and urination
Because of the detection in the state, officials established a new regulation that will assist them in the monitoring and prevention of the disease. According to Chuck Sykes, the director of ADCNR’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, said the primary objective is to determine the prevalence of the disease in the area affected.
“The new regulation is intended to increase the opportunities for hunters to supply samples for CWD testing,” Sykes said. “We need hunters to continue to hunt and submit deer heads for testing. These additional samples will help us better determine the extent of the disease in this area.”
To view the most current regulations, visit www.outdooralabama.com/CWD-Info on the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website. There, people will find information on the best management practices for transportation, disposal and testing.
There have been no known cases of humans contracting this disease. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that humans not consume meat from a deer with CWD.
Smith said the detection of CWD in the state alters the way people should address venison for consumption, especially if they harvest the deer in the CWD management zone.
“People should submit the head for testing and wait the couple of weeks for the results before consuming the meat,” he said. “In the meantime, go ahead and process the deer and get it in the freezer. If the test comes back positive, then discard the meat.”
If people receive venison from someone else, they should ask where the person harvested the deer before consuming.
Deer that people harvest in the designated High Risk Zone in Lauderdale County must be submitted for CWD testing. People can do this at drop-off freezer locations or at scheduled ADCNR mobile sampling stations.
For hunters who harvest deer within the Buffer Zone, state officials highly encourage them to submit heads for sampling at drop-off freezer locations anywhere within the CWD management zone.
In other areas of the state, Smith said testing is currently not mandatory.
“Hunters should use their judgement as to whether or not they should get their deer tested,” he said. “However, hunters should keep in mind that state officials are collecting samples from harvested deer statewide to assist in the monitoring of the disease. By submitting their deer for testing, hunters can help tremendously in monitoring the spread of CWD in Alabama.”
For the latest information regarding chronic wasting disease in Alabama, visit the CWD Information page on the Outdoor Alabama website. Continue to monitor this website, as regulations may change as more samples come in and state officials develop a greater understanding of the prevalence of CWD.
For other related topics, visit www.aces.edu or contact the forestry, wildlife and natural resources professional serving your county.