CWD returns to the front page of Outdoor News
A federal laboratory in Ames, Iowa, confirmed this week what the
Minnesota DNR announced last Friday: For the first time ever,
Minnesota has chronic wasting disease in wild whitetail deer.
Into the abyss, folks. This is terrible news, and Outdoor
News readers can expect a massive amount of coverage in our
pages as this story unfolds this spring and beyond. In 2002, when
CWD struck Wisconsin’s wild deer herd (and appeared within a
Minnesota domestic herd), Outdoor News devoted many pages
to explaining how this disease works. I expect similar coverage in
coming weeks and months.
Deer license sales dropped in 2002 because of what I consider
unfounded human health concerns about this illness. CWD is very bad
for whitetail deer. It always kills an infected animal. In my
opinion, however, it is not a human health concern. I wrote a
column in October, 2002 urging people to calm down and still
participate in deer hunting. What I wrote still rings true today,
so we’re reprinting the bulk of that column below. I have added a
few new comments shown in italics.
Oct. 11, 2002
The more I learn and report about CWD, the less it concerns me.
That’s why poll after poll suggesting that some Minnesotans will
not hunt deer this fall continues to surprise and frustrate this
For me, it boils down to three points.
Fact 1: CWD has not been found in our wild
deer. It was found in one domestic elk, but despite testing of deer
in the immediate vicinity, no wild deer anywhere in Minnesota have
shown sign of the disease.
OK, this is no longer true, but please remember that we have
found one infected deer in the vicinity of a domestic elk farm,
which had infected animals, north of Rochester. The DNR tested more
than 500 wild deer in the Pine Island area last year, and probably
1,000-plus over the past few years. No others have tested positive.
We certainly do not appear to have a major outbreak on our hands,
Fact 2: Based on the mad cow example (a
“transmissible spongiform encephalopathies” that has jumped to
humans) it takes a lot of prions to infect people. The reason we’re
talking about CWD is because 10 years ago (18 years ago
now), the United Kingdom was telling its citizens that bovine
spongiform encephalopathy couldn’t affect humans. Now, after the
so-called mad cow disease has killed 130 Europeans, North American
hunters are worried that CWD – another prion-borne transmissible
spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) – could make the same species jump.
Remember this: Brits eat some dishes that most Americans would pass
on, like blood pie, headcheese, and haggis. Lots of organ meats.
I’m also told that some of their burger processing traditionally
has included parts that we wouldn’t grind up, especially in
venison-burger. Bottom line: People in the UK who died of variant
Creutzfeldt-Jakob (CJD) as a result of eating tainted beef likely
did so only after eating the very parts of cattle – neural and
lymph system tissue – that hunters are being told to avoid in their
venison. By following basic precautions (which you should be doing
anyway) for cleaning and processing deer, you’ll greatly reduce the
chance that you’ll contact any prions. Which brings us to…
Fact 3: Even if CWD were present, it’s never
infected people. As Dr. Terry Kreeger pointed out in this
publication three weeks ago, it’s highly likely that people hunting
in the endemic CWD area of Colorado and Wyoming have killed deer in
the early stages of CWD that didn’t show symptoms of the disease.
During processing and while eating those deer, it’s also likely
that those hunters encountered a few CWD prions. Yet we still have
no confirmed cases of anyone contracting the disease.
This is still true in 2011.
Deer hunters need to be concerned about CWD and support DNR
efforts to eliminate it from the landscape before it secures a
permanent foothold in our state’s wild deer herd. As for a human
health issue? Be cautious when you process your venison, but
otherwise hit the woods this fall like it’s any other year. That’s
where I’ll be Nov. 5, 2011.