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May 26, 2024

CWD Spreads to New States and Sparks Fears of Jump to Humans

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Dec 23, 2023

Chronic wasting disease (CWD), a fatal neurological illness affecting deer, elk and moose, has recently been detected in new areas, raising concerns over its continued spread across North America. As CWD rates climb among wild cervid populations, scientists warn the disease may eventually jump to humans.

Kentucky Confirms First Ever Case of CWD

Kentucky wildlife officials announced on December 21st the state’s first ever detection of chronic wasting disease (CWD) after a deer tested positive in West Kentucky. The positive sample came from a harvested 3-year-old buck taken by a hunter in Slaughter Creek during the opening weekend of modern gun season.

Upon receiving the positive CWD result, officials implemented Kentucky’s CWD Response Plan. All deer hunting within a 10-mile radius of where the CWD-positive deer was harvested has been suspended for the remainder of the season. Mandatory CWD sampling and testing protocols are now in place for hunters who harvest deer within the CWD Management Zone.

State wildlife veterinarian Christine Casey warned the public not to overreact to this first CWD detection. Kentucky has been preparing for this day for nearly 20 years, establishing response plans in consultation with other state agencies that have dealt with CWD. Officials do not believe CWD is widespread in Kentucky but will conduct targeted surveillance to determine prevalence and distribution.

Texas Sees Worrisome Jump in CWD Cases

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) reports chronic wasting disease case numbers have climbed sharply within free-ranging white-tailed deer populations. So far during the 2022-23 hunting season, nearly 400 CWD positive deer have been recorded, over twice last year’s total.

Biologists warn surveillance data indicates CWD is now endemic in a significant portion of the Trans-Pecos and Panhandle regions. Alpine, Marfa and Lubbock are considered CWD “hot zones”, where infection rates may exceed 10% of the local deer population.

CWD Statistics in Texas 2021-22 2022-23

| Positive Cases | 184 | 398 (so far)
| Counties with Detections | 33 | 48

Despite rising case numbers, TPWD emphasizes they still do not have evidence CWD is negatively impacting overall deer numbers in these regions. The disease progresses slowly and deer may live over a year before developing advanced symptoms.

However, officials stress the need for hunters to have all harvested deer tested in areas where CWD is known to occur. This surveillance data allows wildlife managers to track the disease and implement control strategies.

Chronic Wasting Disease Discovered at Missouri Breeding Facility

Missouri agriculture officials reported a case of chronic wasting disease at an animal breeding facility in Linn County. The positive test result came from a 3-year-old white-tailed deer doe.

Upon receiving confirmation of the CWD detection, the Missouri Department of Agriculture quarantined the breeding facility and plans to destroy its captive deer herd. State veterinarians will also work to trace animals that have entered or left the facility within the past five years to mitigate risk of further spread.

Missouri state veterinarian Steve Strubberg said while unfortunate, the quarantine action is necessary. Six previous positive cases have been identified on hunting preserves and breeding facilities since 2015. Strict control measures prevented CWD from becoming established in captive populations.

Free-ranging deer have tested positive for CWD in 18 Missouri counties. However, this latest case marks the first known infection at a facility housing captive-raised deer. Breeding facilities with lax regulations have previously caused new CWD outbreaks, highlighting the importance of vigilance.

Mule Deer Near Yellowstone Park Tests Positive

Wyoming Game and Fish Department biologists recently identified chronic wasting disease in a mule deer doe harvested south of Yellowstone National Park. This marks the first known case of CWD in deer living along the Snake River near Bondurant.

Since 1997, Wyoming has aggressively monitored and managed CWD across the state. Around Jackson, efforts have focused on elk since a number of animals tested positive inside the National Elk Refuge. While concerning, this single positive mule deer does not necessarily mean CWD has gained a foothold locally.

“We will definitely be paying close attention to this area moving forward,” said Hank Edwards, wildlife biologist with the Jackson Regional Office. “With CWD now detected in a muley, we’ll implement enhanced surveillance and bolster testing numbers over the next couple years.”

Wildlife managers plan to distribute extra self-service head collection bins across the area. Hunter-submitted samples will help determine if further cases are present around Jackson Hole. So far prevalence remains low, with under 3% of deer and elk testing positive statewide.

Concerns Rise Over CWD Mutations and Species Barrier

As chronic wasting disease continues spreading across North America, scientists warn the illness may be evolving in unpredictable ways. Recent studies highlight two worrying phenomena regarding CWD:

Emergence of CWD strains causing faster disease progression

A research paper published in Microbiology Spectrum found mutant prions are arising, triggering a “rapid” form of CWD. Deer developed symptoms and died of the disease much quicker than normal. If rapid variants become common, they could spark even higher infection and mortality rates.

Potential for cross-species barrier jump to humans

Given the similarities with mad cow disease, some scientists fear chronic wasting disease could eventually jump to humans. So far there have been no reported cases of humans contracting CWD. However, recent studies in macaques showed infected meat did lead to prion disease transmission. Research is still limited and the implications unclear, but experts say continued monitoring is critical.

Outlook Moving Forward

Wildlife agencies across North America continue bolstering chronic wasting disease surveillance, yet prevalence climbs. In areas where CWD is established, experts say learning to live with the disease may be the only path forward.

While new state detections spark alarm, officials emphasize staying the course rather than panic. Kentucky Commissioner Rich Storm noted they have planned for this day and trust their wildlife veterinarians to guide an appropriate response. Education will be key so hunters understand proper precautions without overreacting.

Debate continues around more aggressive population control where infection rates are highest. Culling shows success in isolated pockets, yet broad application proves difficult. Most managers promote hunter harvesting alongside continued testing. Despite rising concerns over CWD unknowns, research must progress to uncover science-based solutions.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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