Millersburg, Ohio — First the bad news: A case of chronic wasting disease has been found in Ohio for the first time on a private game reserve.
The good news: The deer in question had already been under quarantine on a Holmes County farm since April.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture and the Ohio DNR confirmed the first positive case of CWD in the state in a captive deer herd in Holmes County. The state continues to take quarantine action to control the further spread of the disease. There is no evidence that CWD has affected the wild deer population in the state.
The positive sample was taken from a single, client-killed buck at World Class Whitetails in Millersburg and tested as part of Ohio’s CWD monitoring program for captive white-tailed deer operations.
“It was a mature buck, and that’s consistent with what other states see with the history of CWD,” said Susie Vance, an Ohio Division of Wildlife spokeswoman.
The preserve had been under quarantine since April 24, and was subject to intensive monitoring and sampling protocols because of a known connection to a captive deer operation in Pennsylvania that tested positive for CWD earlier this year. The quarantine will remain in force until the state is satisfied that disease transference can no longer occur.
“Ohio’s captive white-tail deer licensing program was enacted two years ago for the purpose of continuously monitoring the heath of the captive deer populations in the state to manage the spread of and exposure to diseases such as CWD. We have worked closely with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to identify and trace back positive cases,” said Ohio State Veterinarian Dr. Tony Forshey. “We will continue to take aggressive steps to ensure that CWD does not pose a threat to the state’s wild deer population.”
There are 539 captive deer operations in Ohio, according to the DNR Division of Wildlife.
“The minute that Pennsylvania got its positive is when those (Ohio) facilities went under quarantine,” said Vance. “Had we known there were (CWD) positives beforehand, we would not have allowed the import.”
Ohio is the 14th state in the U.S. where the disease has been confirmed at private deer farms. It has been found in wild deer in 18 states, Ohio excluded.
The state has quarantined 43 captive deer operations in Ohio since April 15, for receiving approximately 125 deer from operations in Pennsylvania that later tested positive for CWD. Twenty-two of those quarantines were lifted after negative CWD test results were confirmed in 53 of the suspect animals from Pennsylvania.
ODA will continue to enforce quarantine restrictions on 21 operations, including five hunting preserves, until the department is satisfied that the threat of disease transference has passed.
“For these preserves, they’re monitored and regulated by the Department of Agriculture,” said Vance. “They’re not wild deer. So, they don’t fall under regular hunting season limits. They’re privately owned, essentially farm animals … They’re really kind of like livestock.”
CWD is fatal in deer, elk, and moose, but there is no evidence CWD can be transmitted to humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The World Health Organization. Though no human disease has been associated with CWD, the CDC recommends, as a precaution, that people or other animals do not eat any part of an animal diagnosed with or showing signs of CWD.
“We have no reason to believe that there has been transference to the state’s wild deer population,” said Scott Zody, chief of the DNR Division of Wildlife. “With hunting season in progress, there are no CWD concerns that should prevent anyone from enjoying wild deer hunting in Ohio or from consuming meat from healthy animals.”
The Division of Wildlife is recommending that hunters continue to take standard precautions such as shooting only animals that appear healthy, wearing rubber gloves when field-dressing their deer, and washing thoroughly when finished. If a hunter should observe a deer that appears unhealthy, he or she is encouraged to contact the local wildlife office or officer.
“There aren’t concerns that should keep (hunters) from getting in the field,” Vance said. “The same as any other time, hunters should take precautions and shoot deer that are healthy.
“These captive deer are in no way associated with the wild herd,” she said. “It is illegal to capture and contain wild deer. These deer are all purchased and sold (to clients).”
Since 2002, the state has conducted surveillance throughout Ohio for the disease. State and federal officials will continue this regular sampling and testing throughout the hunting season to continue to monitor the health of the state’s wild deer population. Tissue samples from 753 deer killed on Ohio’s roads were collected from September 2013 through March 2014 and were tested for CWD. An additional 88 hunter-harvested mature white-tailed deer and nine deer displaying symptoms consistent with CWD were tested as well and were all negative.
In response to this positive finding, the Division of Wildlife will increase sampling efforts in the wild deer population within six miles of the hunting preserve from which the CWD-positive deer came as well as near the other captive operations that are under quarantine. Those samples will include high-risk animals such as those killed on roads or exhibiting neurological symptoms as well as hunter-harvested deer in the area.
CWD, first discovered in captive mule deer in Colorado in 1967, attacks the brains of infected deer, elk, and moose, producing small lesions that eventually result in death. It is transmitted by direct animal-to-animal contact through saliva, feces, and urine. Signs of the disease include weight loss, excessive salivation, increased drinking and urination, and abnormal behavior like stumbling, trembling, and depression. Infected deer and elk may also allow unusually close approach by humans or natural predators. The disease is fatal in deer. There is no known treatment or vaccine.
“Our focus right now is to increase sampling,” Vance said. “So, if hunters are in that local area, the Holmes County area, we’re going to need to increase our monitoring and increase our sample size.”
Vance said the immediate steps being taken by the agriculture department and the Division of Wildlife is reaching out to the Holmes County community and setting up more collection sites.
“We need to get the word out that we need more deer,” for testing, Vance said. “We’re doing outreach to processors in the area and even taxidermists. Hunters, processors, and taxidermists, and roadkill are going to be our source to get more samples.”
Often the case when a case of CWD is diagnosed, baiting and feeding of deer in the area is banned. Such a step has not been part of the early discussion for the Division of Wildlife, said Vance.
“There’s always discussion on every single option,” Vance said. “But, right now, feeding and baiting are not our focus.”