For now Ohio’s deer herd appears clean of any chronic wasting disease.
Again, for now at least, Ohio officials are saying.
In an annual cooperative venture between the Ohio departments of Agriculture and Natural Resources, officials with both agencies are saying that routine testing of largely – though not exclusively - road-kill white-tail deer has failed to indicate the presence of Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD, in Ohio.
CWD is a degenerative disease of the brain caused by malfunctioning proteins, called prions. The disease is always fatal and this particular form of a tongue-twisting so-named Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSEs) ailment strikes white-tail and mule deer along with elk.
Other variations impact other mammal species, including humans. However, no evidence exists that CWD can be transferred to humans even by eating an infected animal.
A November 2004 scientific report compiled by officials with the Centers for Disease Control on the subject drew the following conclusion:
“The lack of evidence of a link between CWD transmission and unusual cases of CJD, despite several epidemiologic investigations, and the absence of an increase in CJD incidence in Colorado and Wyoming suggest that the risk, if any, of transmission of CWD to humans is low
“Although the in vitro studies indicating inefficient conversion of human prion protein by CWD-associated prions raise the possibility of low-level transmission of CWD to humans, no human cases of prion disease with strong evidence of a link with CWD have been identified.
“However, the transmission of (CWD) indicate that, provided sufficient exposure, the species barrier may not completely protect humans from animal prion diseases.”
Consequently, the potential health concerns remain along with worries as to whether CWD might pose a serious threat to the stability of Ohio’s deer herd.
Not lost either is potential risk that the mere reporting of CWD-infected animals might have on local hunting-based tourism. In some states, hunters have stopped chasing deer due to fears of CWD being found in a particular state’s deer herd.
Both federal and state wildlife and agricultural officials with both state and federal various agencies went to work from September of last year to April collecting road-kill deer. Samples from 753 animals were assembled.
Also, another 88 hunter-harvested bucks and an additional nine deer collected elsewhere were sampled. These deer displayed symptoms similar to those symptoms addressed by CWD infection, the ODNR and ODA both say.
Yet all of the samples taken were demonstrated as being CWD free. Thus such intensive sampling over 12 consecutive years has shown Ohio deer as being free of the CWD disease.
Even so, the absence of CWD in the tested samples is not proof positive that somewhere in Ohio there is lurking an infected deer or even a small group of infected deer.
Still, the ODNR’s Division of Wildlife says Ohio is so densely populated that someone somewhere would take note of a CWD-sick deer.
Presently 22 states and two Canadian provinces have recorded CWD infection. Among them include a number of Ohio neighboring states including West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Michigan along with such nearby states as New York, Illinois, and Virginia.
In the end, health and wildlife officials all agree that hunters are on the front line on both detection and personal protection.
To this end deer hunters are urged to take proper and appropriate action to prevent contamination, regardless of how insignificant such a risk exists.
These precautions include wearing synthetic gloves while field-dressing and butchering a deer, avoid eating meat from a sickly looking deer or elk minimize handing or touching brain and related nervous system parts, bone out the meat, along with eating deer and elk tissues known to harbor the CWD agent (e.g., brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils, lymph nodes) from areas where CWD has been identified.
For further information, visit the Agriculture Department’s web site at www.ohioagriculture.gov , the ODNR’s web site at www.wildohio.gov, or the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance at cwd-info.org.
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Jeff Frischkorn is a retired News-Herald's reporter who covered the earth sciences, the area's three county park districts, as well as the outdoors for nearly 30 years. He continues covering the latter through this blog. Jeff also writes a column and feature stories for the Ohio Outdoor News, which is published every other week and concerns itself with matters associated with Ohio's varied outdoors scene.