October 22, 2018

Portions of Maine Should Be On The Lookout for Wildlife Diseases

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Last week outdoor writer George Smith told his readers that they should be aware that Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in bearing down on Northwestern Maine as the disease has been found only 100 miles from the Maine border with Quebec, Province. CWD is a debilitating disease for deer as it causes, as the name suggests, deer to “waste away” and die. While not pleasant to see or harvest a fulling infected CWD deer, eating the meat is not harmful to humans…but not everyone cares to eat it and will not risk doing so.

But, this isn’t the only threat Mainers should be made aware of. Today I posted a recent study that showed certain strains of Echinococcus worms carried and spread by wild and domestic canids (dogs). The study sampled wolves, coyotes, red, and arctic foxes in both Quebec Province and the State of Maine and found the human-contagious parasite in Northern and Western Maine near the Canadian border.

Some good news is that the more harmful strain of Echinococcus, E. multilocularis, was not found in any of the canids sampled, although it has been found in portions of Ontario and moving east.

I’ve written much about this disease over the past years, falling mostly on deaf ears. Even when the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) first reported that they had found the disease in Moose in Maine (2014), after initially posting something about it on their website, they quickly scrubbed it. In an email I sent to Commissioner Woodcock asking him what the Department intended to do about this troubling discovery, the response I got was, “nothing at this time.”

So when? It’s been 4 years.

Canid species are definitive hosts of the Echinococcus eggs and are passed through their feces into the environment of which wild ungulates – moose, deer, elk, caribou, etc. – ingest the tiny spores which in turn form cysts on their lungs, liver and other organs. While not deadly to these animals directly, cysts can affect the capacity of lungs and the function of the liver making these animals more susceptible to predators.

Humans, on the other hand, are at risk from the same ingestion of spores. This can happen from close examination of wolf, coyote, fox scat when the spores are released into the air and a person can inhale or ingest eggs that have gotten on their skin or clothing. They can also ingest eggs by drinking infected water. These eggs are extremely viable in various environmental conditions.

The most common way of becoming infected is when dog owners allow their dogs to run free in areas where wild canines, infected with the disease, live and roam. Dogs, as dogs do, can eat infected carrion, getting eggs on their mouth, face, and fur, passing it on to people, including children (think dogs licking children’s faces). Dogs also will eat or roll in wild canine feces, bringing the eggs with them back home and into the house if people allow their free-ranging dogs to live with them in their houses.

The study that I linked to in a previous posts exclaims that what is needed is that more effort is taken to educate and warn those who might be at risk, including trappers, hunters, and anyone with free-ranging dogs living in known infected areas.

Perhaps it is time for MDIFW to step up to the plate and inform the public what they know and begin an education program. They may be concerned about the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease, as they should, because it can destroy our already fragile deer herd, but what about protecting people? That should be of higher priority than protecting the deer…shouldn’t it?

For Maine, the E. canadesis strain (G8 and G10) are of the most threat to us. The report defines the spread of this disease into Maine as “rapid.” Now is the time to begin the education process, to teach people about restraining their dogs and or talking to their vets to make sure they are getting the proper and timely worm treatments. The simplest and quite effective thing people can do is to wash their hands frequently.

Detection of the cysts, Hydatid cysts, in humans is difficult. If detected, treatment is expensive and dangerous. Part of the reason detection is difficult is because doctors aren’t looking for it because nobody is telling them the incidents of Hydatid disease is on the increase. These people prefer to scoff at the notion of any health risk in order to protect their precious wild dogs.

It’s time to make some changes that will help reduce the risk of infection of humans.

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