Chronic Wasting DiseaseChronic Wasting Disease

U.S.A.-( Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a highly contagious, always-fatal disease that affects cervids such as deer, elk, and moose. It is difficult to detect in live animals because there is not a practical test to determine if live animals are infected. Additionally, the outward physical and behavioral signs of CWD often take several years before they are readily observable. There is no vaccine.

Research indicates that CWD can contribute to localized population declines in wild cervid populations and it is spreading, affecting wild populations in more areas in North America. It has been detected in captive and wild populations in about half of the states in the U.S. and several Canadian provinces. Attempts to eradicate the disease have failed, and efforts to control its spread through herd reduction, hunter surveillance, and other methods have had limited success.

Natural and human-caused factors are contributing to the spread of CWD. Infected animals shed disease agents called “prions” that are transmitted to healthy animals through direct contact (saliva) or by encountering shed prions in the environment. Prions are shed when an infected animal feeds, urinates, defecates, or dies and decomposes. These shed prions bind to soil and remain in the environment, capable of infecting healthy animals for several years.

In addition to the spread of CWD through the natural movement of wild animals, there are human-caused factors accelerating the spread of the disease. The leading factor is the transportation of captive deer and elk between breeding facilities and game farms where infected animals come in contact with other captive and wild animals. Transmission of CWD between wild and captive cervids can occur in either direction through fence-line contact and escape of captive animals. Another human-caused factor spreading the disease to new locations is the movement of infected carcasses with improper disposal at the destination. Other practices, such as feeding and baiting, can unnaturally congregate normally scattered elk or deer that increases opportunities for CWD transmission if it is present in a wild population.

State agencies are responding differently to CWD, with some taking aggressive action and some doing very little. Public awareness and participation of hunters vary as well, from denying the existence of the disease to recognizing it as a real problem that must be addressed. As a result, wildlife agencies and other managers are likely to face hurdles when new control strategies impact or conflict with the interests of stakeholders, including sportsmen (e.g., wild herd reductions) and commercial game farms (e.g., depopulation measures and transportation bans).

So far, there is no evidence that CWD is transmissible to humans, nor are there any documented cases of people becoming infected. However, scientists believe the possibility cannot be entirely ruled out, as incubation periods for CWD prions in humans may last for decades and prion diseases in general are capable of developing new strains that can adapt to different species.

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