Chronic Wasting Disease has been found in 25 states in the U.S., and officials only expect it to spread
As hunting season approaches, several states are cracking down to prevent the spread of “zombie” deer and elk.
Officials in Nevada have been testing carcasses of deer and elk to monitor Chronic Wasting Disease, a highly contagious nervous system disease that affects cervids — meaning elk, deer, moose and reindeer — the Las Vegas Sun reported.
According to the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance, CWD causes the animals to lose their fear of humans, become emaciated and exhibit erratic behavior, hence the “zombie” nickname.
Earlier this year, Nevada passed a law that placed new rules on how game hunted in neighboring states — like Utah, where there have been 94 CWD cases recorded, whereas Nevada has had none — are brought back into the Sagebrush State.
Despite efforts to curb the spread of the disease, officials are wary that CWD’s entrance into Nevada is inevitable.
“It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” one of Nevada’s wildlife veterinarians at the Department of Wildlife, Peregrine Wolff, told the Sun.
A veterinarian with Nevada’s Department of Agriculture echoed Wolff, saying that officials have watched CWD spread from Colorado into Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and Montana. “And it is going to spread into Nevada,” said J.J. Goicoechea.
States have regulations on how meat captured in one state can be brought into another state, but Nevada’s Department of Wildlife Chief Game Warden Tyler Turnipseed illustrated how even the most well-meaning hunters can unassumingly help the spread of CWD in a testimony for the new law passed earlier this year, according to the Sun.
“Someone, for instance … shoots a deer in Colorado that is infected with chronic wasting disease,” Turnipseed explained. “They’re back home to California, (and) realize they will be in violation of California’s law (banning certain carcass parts), so they stop and dump out their butchered carcass alongside the freeway.“
“They’ve taken their meat, they’re legal on that part, but they leave the spine or part of the head,” he continued. “A raven comes along, or the deer that migrate down off the Sonoma Range to the Humboldt River, and comes into contact with this carcass, and all of a sudden we’ve got chronic wasting disease (in Nevada).”
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USA Today reported Monday that Iowa, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania have also issued warnings to hunters about CWD. In addition to 25 U.S. states, the disease has also been recorded in Canada, Norway and South Korea, according to the CWD Alliance.
CWD is a death sentence for animals that contract it, and there is currently no vaccine. It can take up to two years before the animals begin to show symptoms.
Although there is no current proof that CWD is harmful to humans, it is recommended that people not eat meat infected with CWD.