Updates on Chronic Wasting Disease
New Jersey Hunting
By Carole Stanko, Chief, Bureau of Wildlife Management
Chronic Wasting Disease has been a media hot topic in 2019. Misleading articles warn of a “zombie deer disease” that could spread to humans. False claims assert that CWD is caused by bacteria, yet a cure is right around the corner. Another report wrongly states that CWD does not affect the deer population. To separate sensationalism from fact, New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife presents straight answers on a serious disease that affects all deer hunters.
Truths About Chronic Wasting Disease
- The disease is not caused by a virus or bacteria. CWD is one of a family of diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. These diseases are the result of a naturally occurring protein, called a prion, that becomes misfolded and thus resists being broken down by the body the way normal proteins are.
When these misfolded proteins are introduced into a healthy cervid (any member of the deer family including elk, reindeer, moose), they multiply by causing the animal’s normal and healthy prion proteins to misfold and begin damaging the animal’s nervous system. This process may take as long as two years before the animal begins to show outward signs of the disease.
- Most likely, you will never see an animal exhibiting symptoms of CWD. Animals in the late stages of CWD are often emaciated, show erratic behavior and exhibit neurological irregularities. However, due to the long, slow disease progression, infected animals are almost always killed by predators, vehicles or other diseases—well before CWD symptoms are obvious. If you observe a sick deer, please report the date, time and specific location to (908) 637-4125, ext. 120
- CWD has not been shown to be infective to humans. Current research indicates that a robust species barrier keeps CWD from being readily transmitted to humans. In fact, there are several other species that don’t seem to contract CWD either, like cattle and pronghorn antelope.
However, research has shown that infective CWD prions can be forced, in a laboratory, to morph into a form that may be infective to humans. Further research demonstrates that other primates (macaques) can contract the disease by consuming meat from CWD-infected deer. Therefore, it is recommended that humans do not consume meat from infected animals.
What Can Be Done About Cwd?
The best way to manage CWD is to prevent its introduction into New Jersey. To date, CWD has persisted, spread and increased in prevalence in nearly every area where it has been discovered. Since there is no vaccine for a prion disease like CWD, the options for managing CWD are extremely limited.
The most effective strategies, by far, are those that eliminate ways that CWD can travel to new areas by infected animals or infected animal parts. Ideally, there should be no movement of animals from infected areas to uninfected areas. In places where CWD is present, cervid populations should be managed to reduce their potential to congregate and to prevent an increase to unnaturally high numbers.
How Can Hunters Help?
- Use only synthetic lures. Refrain from using natural urine lures—use synthetics instead.
- Bone out meat. If hunting out of New Jersey, bring back only boned-out meat, cleaned skull caps (50 percent bleach solution) and cleaned hides. DO NOT bring a deer carcass back to New Jersey for butchering.
- Test and freeze deer harvested from a CWD-endemic state. Test your deer for CWD, then freeze until test results confirm the deer is CWD-free. CWD-endemic states usually offer deer testing, so contact the state fish and wildlife agency where you are hunting. For deer that test CWD-positive, contact New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Dr. Jan Lovy at (908) 637-4173 ext. 120 for disposal of the frozen, infected venison.