Chronic Wasting Disease, the highly contagious and always fatal deer disease, last year made its way into several West Tennessee counties, and despite the TWRA’s efforts to contain it, there’s no way to know how far it may have spread.
It is possible it could have reached Middle Tennessee.
The reason for the uncertainty is because researchers don’t how long CWD may be in a deer’s system before the infected animal exhibits the symptoms: loss of balance, erratic behavior and dramatic weight loss – it literally wastes away as its nervous system and immune system break down.
An infected deer could appear perfectly healthy for sometime prior to the final, fatal stages. That infected but undetected deer could spread the disease to other deer through feces, urine, saliva and other contact.
TWRA biologists are monitoring the CWD outbreak.
That’s why the TWRA has banned certain urine-based deer-scent attracts this season, and discourages the use of deer feeders by hunters and wildlife watchers. One CWD-infected deer eating from a feeder could infect every other deer that eats from it.
Another way the disease can be spread is by infected carcasses and tissue on hides and raw antler caps. For several years the TWRA has set strict guidelines on importing deer and elk carcasses and by-products from CWD-impacted states. Starting last year, those restrictions were expanded to include ALL States. (Details about restrictions can be found in the Tennessee Hunting & Trapping Guide.)
Those restrictions apply to out-of-state imports, but what about in-state transports?
What if a CWD-infected deer is killed in one of the eight West Tennessee counties in the newly-designated “CWD Unit” – Chester, Fayette, Hardeman, Haywood, Madison, McNairy, Shelby and Tipton – and transported to, say, Trousdale County?
Last month a CWD-infected doe was found in Tipton County, the 187th case diagnosed, indicating the disease remains rampant.
Hunters who kill a deer in the CWD Unit are required to have it checked for CWD, but the system is not foolproof. Just one infected deer transported to another county could introduce the disease there.
Biologists don’t know where CWD originated; the first cases were diagnosed a half-century ago among a few western mule deer.
All they know for certain is that it is highly contagious, has been spreading rapidly into more and more states – Tennessee being the most recent — and once a deer is infected it is doomed, as are perhaps other deer in the vicinity.
Deer diagnosed with CWD are known to live from a few weeks to several months. That means an infected animal potentially could travel extensively before succumbing to the disease, infecting other animals in which it comes into contact. They, in turn, also travel extensively, further spreading the disease.
In some of the 26 states in which CWD has been found, deer populations have been decimated by 50 percent in impacted areas.
Biologists don’t believe CWD can be spread to humans, livestock or any wildlife except cervids (deer, elk, moose) but advise hunters to take precautions when dressing their kill, and to report any deer exhibiting abnormal behavior.
The TWRA terms CWD the biggest challenge to deer management in modern history, a nightmare scenario that continues to unfold before our eyes.