There is some good-and-bad news in the battle against chronic wasting disease. CWD is a neurological affliction for deer, elk and moose (cervids) that is always fatal. It is established in the wild populations of 13 states, two Canadian provinces, small regions of 11 states, and private deer farms in several other states. Tennessee is CWD-free and has quarantine laws in place to keep it that way.
Previously the test for CWD was always post mortem. Now there is a non-fatal test that can successfully detect the disease. The live testing procedure is performed by removing samples from the animal's lymph glands in its throat. This method appears to be as accurate as the standard method of testing tissue taken from the head of a deceased animal.
The bad news is that Michigan recently became the latest state to detect CWD in its wild deer. A good source of information on CWD is the Quality Deer Management Association website www.qdma.com, to wit:
Is the venison from a CWD area safe to eat? There is currently no evidence that CWD is transmissible to humans. However, public health officials recommend that human exposure to the CWD agent be avoided as research continues. The agent that causes CWD is suspected to be an abnormally shaped protein called a prion, which is most often found in the brain and spinal cord, but also in the eyes, lymph nodes, tonsils, and spleen – and possibly in the urine.
Prions are not destroyed by cooking. Have your venison from CWD areas tested and do not eat venison that tests positive. Completely bone out your harvested cervids in the field and take the normal, simple precautions when field dressing the carcass. Contact the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency for recommended testing facilities.
Should food plots be discouraged, since they concentrate deer into one area? QDMA says No. Scientific studies do not indicate that is necessary, but close congregation of deer around bait and supplemental feed and minerals might be a problem.
What else can hunters do? Report any sickly deer, elk or moose to a wildlife agent. Refrain from using urine-based deer lures since they might contain prions. Stay informed: Go to www.cwd-info.org often for the latest CWD news and information. See that website for a current list of affected states and regions.