Animal-Related Diseases Should Not Worry Deer, Turkey Hunters
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October 24, 2002

Animal-Related Diseases Should Not Worry Deer, Turkey Hunters

For most, hunting is a leisure activity, a hobby that allows some to escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Men and women head to the woods to pursue deer, turkey and other wildlife and they can leave the stress and worries behind. Or can they?

With the recent outbreak of West Nile Virus (WNV) as well as the growing concern revolving around Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) many hunters now are worried about the game they will be pursuing this fall.

But experts are assuring hunters that these issues should not affect their hunting fun.

WNV, which is spread by mosquitoes, has apparently become an issue for some turkey hunters. Misinformation has spurred fears that hunters should not eat turkeys taken during the bow or fall firearms season because of fear of the West Nile Virus.

But while the Missouri Department of Conservation does warn hunters not to take or handle obviously sick wildlife, no documented cases of WNV have been associated with the handling, cleaning, or consumption of wildlife species.

MDC has always recommended that when cleaning game or handling live or dead wildlife, hunters should use gloves in order to prevent blood to blood contact. That recommendation has been around much longer than WNV or CWD.

Because of the high level of the virus that can be found in crows, experts have warned hunters from eating this species. MDC again notes that no problems have been discovered and this is simply a precautionary step.

Chronic Wasting Disease is another animal malady that appears to be extremely misunderstood by the public. Much of the problem is that MDC and other agencies charged with controlling the disease such as USDA and the Center for Disease Control, don't really know that much more about the disease than the general public.

CWD belongs to a group of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). TSEs cause a degeneration of the brain in deer and elk. CWD was first detected in 1967, in deer, within the northeast portion of Colorado.

The biggest concern is how the disease is transferred from one animal to another. Scientists have not nailed down the process leaving the issue open for speculation.

CWD can come into a state through the natural movement of wild deer and elk or the interstate shipment of hunter harvested or captive white-tailed deer, mule deer or elk. Scientists are not certain, but it is possible that the carcass of infected deer or elk may be a way of spreading CWD. Once the disease is present, scientists are unsure how CWD spreads from one animal to another. One pathway may be through animal-to-animal contact at food or water sources.

While scientists are unsure how the disease spreads, there are several points regarding CWD that can be stated.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services states there is no evidence that CWD can infect people. CWD is not viewed as a human health issue.

The Missouri Department of Agriculture states that research shows there is no evidence that CWD can spread from infected deer or elk to other livestock, such as sheep or cattle.

Agencies such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services are responsible for human health. No warnings have been issued by these agencies with regards to CWD and eating deer meat. There are no illnesses and no deaths known to be related to CWD among the nation's 16 million deer hunters since the disease was discovered more than 30 years ago.

MDC still preaches caution when handling any wildlife offering the following statement on the organization's webpage.

"As we have always recommended, if a hunter is concerned about ANY disease or parasite that deer might have they should consider wearing rubber gloves while field dressing and processing deer."

So if CWD does not effect humans and has not been found in the state's deer herd, then why all the concern?

MDC states "Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is not a human health issue. However, it may impact the states deer herd. Exactly how, and to what extent, is not well understood. Missouri's citizens place great value on the state's deer resource. Monitoring for CWD, just as we monitor for other diseases, is necessary for responsible deer herd manage-ment. Surveying the herd health has always been an important part of the Department of Conservation's deer management program. Hunters continue to be a vital part of these health monitoring efforts."

CWD has not been found in Missouri. It has been documented in Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Saskatchewan and Alberta, Canada.

CWD can occur in both wild and captive mule deer, white-tailed deer and elk. The disease has been found in wild white-tailed deer in Nebraska and Wisconsin. Last year, Missouri tested 72 sick deer reported by hunters and the public for CWD and found none.

This year MDC will begin a 3-year program of testing deer across the state to expand the monitoring of Missouri's free-ranging deer herd.

The testing program has come under fire, especially during the early stages when the efforts of the Conservation Department appeared to be targeted toward the state's big game farms and hunting preserves.

This resulted in a special legislative hearing with numerous area legislators like Senator John Cauthorn and Representative Sam Berkowitz along with Lt. Governor Joe Maxwell present to question MDC's plan.

The testing program has shifted since this meeting on September 11. MDC now plans to test 30 counties in Missouri (including Scotland County) for CWD, with hunters voluntarily allowing their harvested deer to be tested.

CWD can only be confirmed by laboratory examination of brain tissue. Scientists are working on a number of promising approaches that, in the future, may provide a live animal test for use on both deer and elk. Local hunters who participate in the program will allow the brain and upper spinal column of their deer to be taken for testing purposes.


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