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Hunter's Guide to Chronic Wasting Disease

Friday, October 24, 2014 

What is Chronic Wasting Disease?
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a rare disease of the central nervous system in deer and elk. CWD has been present for decades in a portion of southeast Wyoming and northeastern Colorado. The disease has recently been found in free-ranging and captive deer and elk in other states and Canadian provinces, but has not been found in Idaho.

CWD is one of a group of diseases—called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, or TSE—that includes Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) in humans, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cows and scrapie in sheep. Scrapie has been known for more than 250 years and has been present for more than 50 years in all the western sheep producing states including Idaho. Scrapie has not been shown to produce illness in the humans who work with live sheep, process carcasses or consume lamb and mutton. There is no evidence that CWD is associated with illness in humans or livestock.

The World Health Organization has stated, “There is currently no evidence that CWD in cervidae (deer and elk) is transmitted to humans,” but they also recommended, “... no part or product of any animal with evidence of CWD or other TSEs should be fed to any species—human, domestic or captive.”

What is Known About CWD in Idaho?
To date, there is no evidence that chronic wasting disease (CWD) is present in free-ranging cervids in Idaho. Fish and Game has been monitoring for CWD in deer and elk since 1997 and increased efforts in 2002. It is hoped that the additional testing effort will provide early detection of CWD so appropriate steps can be taken to limit a potential outbreak. Those steps could include significant reduction in deer and elk populations to reduce the potential for the disease to spread. Fish and Game has a cooperative agreement with USDA. This agreement allowed for expanded sample collection efforts in 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 continuing to the present in eastern Idaho, where it is likely that CWD would first be detected. Funding provided through the cooperative agreement has been used to hire temporary personnel to collect samples from meat lockers, taxidermists, from harvested game at check stations, to enhance the database and GIS abilities of IDFG to be able to detect and respond to CWD. CWD sample numbers have increased each year to 1,258 statewide in 2005 with 607 from south east Idaho, all testing negative.

Hunters will play an important part in the CWD surveillance program and are encouraged to cooperate with IDFG personnel that will be collecting samples at check stations.

Deer and elk that are affected by CWD generally appear thin for no reason, tend to drool, drink excessive amounts of water and may appear blind or uncoordinated. Animals showing these signs should be reported to a local conservation officer, IDFG regional office or the IDFG Wildlife Health Laboratory at 208-454-7638.

Helping Prevent CWD in Idaho
In an effort to prevent the spread of CWD to Idaho, IDFG has taken several steps to reduce the risk posed by the importation of live deer and elk into the state. Importation of captive deer into Idaho will not be allowed. Fish and Game will not transplant deer or elk from out of state into Idaho. IDFG is cooperating with the Idaho Department of Agriculture to minimize the risks associated with privately owned elk. For the benefit of Idaho’s deer and elk populations, both the agricultural and hunting communities must take every opportunity to work together to reduce the risk of CWD.

Although no occurrences have been documented in Idaho, there is concern that CWD may be moved to new areas by the transport of certain infected animal parts. To minimize this remote possibility, IDFG recommends that Idaho residents hunting in states where CWD is known to exist be aware of and follow any special restrictions or rules established by that state.

A number of states have established regulations about CWD and the transport of hunter-killed animals. Nonresident hunters should be familiar with the regulations in the state in which they hunt as well as any regulations set by their home states.

The threat of spreading CWD is a serious concern to IDFG and all citizens of Idaho. All practical steps to minimize the risk of it being spread to the state need to be taken.

However, there is no evidence that it occurs in Idaho and both resident and nonresident hunters should continue to enjoy the outstanding deer and elk hunting opportunities the state has to offer.

Thank you for your support of IDFG programs to protect and improve our wildlife resources.

Care of Game
IDFG recommends that all hunters should take a few basic precautions when handling carcasses of game harvested during the hunting season. These recommendations are general guidelines when handling wild game meat. General precautions include:

  • Hunters should not harvest or eat wild animals that appear sick.
  • Hunters should wear latex or plastic gloves when field dressing and processing game.
  • Hunters should clean meat carefully, remove bloodshot tissues and cool the carcass as quickly as possible after killing.
  • Hunters should use clean equipment for butchering and carefully clean the equipment before and after working with carcasses
  • Hunters should avoid contact with brain and spinal tissues, ideally by boning out the carcass.
  • Hunters should avoid the consumption of the brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen and lymph nodes of harvested animals. Nothing in these recommendations allows the hunter to remove evidence of sex as required by Idaho hunting rules. Hunters should refer to current big game rules on evidence of sex that is to be left with the carcass.
Last Updated: June 30, 2011 
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