Even if you are just a casual deer hunter, chances are pretty good that you’ve heard the term Chronic Wasting Disease, commonly referred to as CWD.
CWD is a transmittable spongiform encephalopathy that can occur among deer, elk and moose populations. Since it was first documented in a captive mule deer in Colorado about 35 years ago, CWD has slowly spread to more than two dozen states and a number of Canadian provinces, according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
In deer infected with CWD, abnormal proteins, called prions, convert normal proteins to abnormal proteins, typically in the central nervous system. Ultimately CWD kills the infected deer.
CWD is transmitted from deer to deer via contact with saliva, urine or presumably the feces of an infected deer. Uninfected deer can even contract the disease by ingesting soil, food, or water that has come in contact with bodily fluids of an infected deer.
Basically, CWD is the deer version of mad cow disease.
Despite all of the rhetoric, most South Carolina deer hunters are not concerned with CWD because no case of it has ever been documented in a South Carolina deer. That’s the way Charles Ruth, Deer Project Coordinator for the SCDNR, likes it.
“Two things have helped us keep CWD out of South Carolina so far,” said Ruth. “First, we are geographically isolated from the area where CWD originated, although states east of the Mississippi River have had documented cases. The second is we have always been a closed-door state when it comes to the importation of captive deer.”
Ruth explained that many states where CWD has been identified first found the disease in a captive animal before later finding free range deer that were also subject to the disease.
Ruth further stated there are no known treatments or cures for CWD.
“The incubation period for the disease is also problematic,” he said. “It can take anywhere from a year to up to five years before the disease becomes apparent.”
Deer that have contracted CWD are often described as thin and sickly. The most obvious sign of CWD is progressive weight loss. Numerous behavioral changes also have been reported, including decreased social interaction, loss of awareness, and loss of fear of humans. Diseased animals also may exhibit increased drinking, urination, and excessive salivation.
While no cases of CWD being transmitted from deer to humans have been recorded, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people do not consume meat from an infected animal.
In an effort to further stem the possibility of the spread of CWD into South Carolina, the South Carolina State Legislature, at the urging of the Department of Natural Resources, recently enacted legislation banning hunters from using urine-based deer attractants.
“These attractants or lures are made from the urine or scent organs of pen raised deer,” said Ruth. “They are often produced by facilities that collect urine over a grate system, which doesn’t prevent contamination from feces or saliva”
According to Ruth, these facilities, which are all located outside the state, cannot live test the animals for CWD, nor can the urine products be cleansed of the disease without ruining the scent. The only safe precaution is to ban them from use in the state.
Ruth said the Department recognizes this legislation may not sit well with hunters who prefer to use these bottled scents to hunt deer, but added that there are other alternatives available. One is the use of synthetic scents, which many hunters claim work just as well as natural. He also pointed out it is permissible to use urine or scent glands that the hunter has harvested from a South Carolina deer.
“Some say it’s a long shot contracting the disease through bottled scent” said Ruth, “but we don’t want to be in a situation where we find the disease in South Carolina and know we didn’t do everything we could to prevent it.”
Phillip Gentry is the host of “Upstate Outdoors,” broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on 106.3 WORD FM. This week’s guest on the show will be Troy Landry, from History Channel’s Swamp People. Stream the show live at 1063WORD.radio.com.