February 8, 2023

Is It Too Early To Press The Panic Button On Chronic Wasting Disease?

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Chronic Wasting Disease

Chronic wasting disease kills deer, moose and elk. It is prevalent in several states and officials are doing what they can, or at least what they think is best, to stop the spread of it.

Yesterday I brought to you a story about what the state of Maine is doing to ensure the disease isn’t brought into their state by way of transporting game in from other states or countries. Maine’s new law says that ANY deer, moose or elk killed anywhere outside of the state has to be deboned and all brain and soft tissue removed from the skull. It also includes no antlers in velvet.

There is opposition to this new law, one that seems to have been kept under wraps for some reason. As more hunters, particularly those hunters in border towns who hunt New Hampshire or Canada, learn about the new law, they are finding it troublesome. This is understandable but should they be reacting so negatively to this new law?

Also yesterday, Moose Droppings ran a story at his website about new warnings coming out of Wyoming about testing animals for CWD. This is a result of studies done on the disease after earlier reports this year showed that CWD can be transmitted from animal to animal, ie. deer to deer, deer to moose, etc., via saliva and blood. It was collectively thought that the disease was spread through saliva but nothing was known about the blood.

Edward Hoover, a microbiology professor at Colorado State University, says he would recommend that hunters in states known to be infected with the disease have their animals tested before consuming them. Because studies now show that CWD is transmitted through the blood and blood is found in virtually every organ of the body, he says he would want to know if the animal was diseased before he ate it. He still thinks he would eat the animal though.

Kreeger said that if test results were to come back positive on an animal he’d harvested, he thinks he’d probably go ahead and eat it. But then again, “I don’t really know, because I’ve never been in that position.”

The highest concentrations of prions, those nasty little things that make up CWD, are generally found in organs such as the brain, tonsils and lymph nodes. In the past, experts on CWD have said that as long as these tissues are avoided, humans should have no problem with eating the meat.

There is still no official change in the status of humans consuming meat infected with chronic wasting disease. It is still believed to be not transmittable to humans through consumption. But is that changing? Should we be concerned? Should we have our deer, elk and moose tested for CWD before we eat it? Would you eat it if you found out it was infected?

I have been somewhat skeptical about the studies done on CWD and whether it could be transmitted to humans by either contact or ingesting the meat. Most of that skepticism comes from a certain amount of fear or dread and the other from years of watching as study after study always reveals changes in previous findings.

I personally don’t think I would have my deer tested because I think that if I knew the animal was tainted, I’m not sure I could eat it and if I did, I know I couldn’t savor it in the same way. At this point in time I think I would assume the risk of blindly eating it.

Here’s a bigger question and one to think of very seriously. Refering back to the new law the fish and game officials instituted this year in Maine about transporting game into the state. I for one, along with many others, initially thought this law was a bit of overkill. Afterall, the closest state to Maine known to have CWD is New York and why not do like New Hampshire and limit it to just bringing game in from states known to have CWD?

If you look at the big picture and imagine if you will for a moment what could happen. Studies on chronic wasting disease are relatively young. Not a lot of time, energy and money has gone into finding out all we can about the disease – how it spreads, what causes it and how to stop it. With that in mind, we as logically thinking human beings, would have to at least to some degree believe that science is going to learn more and with that knowledge find that not everything is exactly as first thought.

So why not err on the side of caution and go a bit overboard with protecting Maine’s resources? In a bit of retrospect, I applaud Maine for taking the steps now even when they know that such laws can cramp a vital industry of the state and region. But is this cramp or inconvenience to some hunters, as big a problem should scientists discover one day that under the right conditions, perhaps through time and mutations of cells, that man can become sick by eating CWD infected meat? I think not.

Consider the consequences should this become truth. CWD is known to infect cervids – deer, moose and elk. The United States economy reaps billions of dollars through the industry of hunting this animals. If humans could not consume the animals, hunting as we know it today would cease. Our local and state economies would take a drastic hit. Hunting, which is the number one most effective tool used by fish and game departments in managing game herds, would become a useless tool. How would this change things? Without population controls, how would this disease and other diseases spread? Could we control it?

Not to sound like an alarmist but there is a possibility this could happen. What are the odds? I haven’t a clue and maybe they are so small that it’s not even worth the ink used to write this article. But what if it is? Is it time to press the panic button? I don’t think so.

But we shouldn’t be dumping on states like Maine who are willing to risk smaller inconveniences to hunters in order to do as much as is feasible to save a valuable resource. We should also be considering dumping as much time and resources into the further study of this disease and work towards a fast track to get it under our control.

In the meantime, you and I need to do our part. Let’s let the scientists do what they think is right to protect our hunting heritage. We need to report any suspected cases of CWD to the proper authorities and we must stop feeding deer and other wildlife in our back yards.

If we know that the disease is spread through saliva and blood, why do we allow things that cause these animals to congregate in large groups unnaturally, to happen? There are states with and without the disease, that still allow supplemental feeding.

All of these little things can add up to one big step in resolving this problem. I’m afraid hunters may becoming a bit complacent about the disease and not looking at it as the potentially industry-ending enemy that it is.

Tom Remington