No Chronic Wasting Disease in Louisiana ... so far

By Ashley M. Long / Louisiana Logger

As of early December, Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a neurodegenerative disease that affects white-tailed deer, mule deer, red deer, elk, moose and other cervids, has not been detected in Louisiana but remains a cause of concern for many of our state’s hunters for good reason.

CWD is one in a group of diseases called the transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, which include bovine spongiform encephalopathy in cattle (otherwise known as “mad cow disease”) and scrapie in domestic sheep and goats. The disease is caused by misfolded proteins (prions) that are replicated by host animals.

The prions interrupt and degrade nerve cells and ultimately eliminate basic nervous system functions, always resulting in death of the infected host. To date, there are no vaccines to prevent infection, and once an animal is infected, there are no effective treatments.

The origins of CWD are unknown, but the condition was first detected in 1967 in a research herd of mule deer in Colorado. It has now been confirmed in free-ranging populations and at captive facilities in four Canadian provinces and 26 states, including Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi.

U.S. Geological Survey has reports on where chronic wasting disease is found in the United States and Canada.
Where is CWD?

Symptoms of CWD include emaciation or generally poor body condition; decreased activity or erratic behavior; wide, low stances and blank expressions; excessive drinking and urination; and salivation and grinding of teeth. These symptoms appear 16 to 36 months after infection, but are common to many wildlife diseases. As such, a positive diagnosis of CWD requires laboratory testing by a trained professional.

CWD is spread among infected animals by direct and indirect contact with saliva, urine, feces or a carcass. These prion-carrying sources are deposited on the ground and in the soil and can be picked up by other animals during foraging. Reservoirs of prions in the environment (e.g., plants, water) also may enable transmission. Though mother-offspring transmission is possible, lateral transmission between two animals is the typical route for infection, and can occur before symptoms develop.

There is no evidence to suggest CWD can be transmitted to traditional domestic livestock (e.g., cattle, sheep and goats) or humans. However, public health and wildlife officials advise hunters to harvest only healthy-looking animals; to wear latex or rubber gloves while field dressing harvested animals; to bone out carcasses in a way that removes all nervous system tissue; to minimize handling of brain and spinal tissues; to wash hands and disinfect tools with a 50/50 solution of chlorine bleach and water after field dressing is complete; to avoid eating tissues associated with the brain, spinal cord, eyes, tonsils and lymph nodes; to have animals tested before consumption and to avoid consuming meat from any harvested animals that test positive for the disease. To prevent exposing other susceptible animals to infected material, officials suggest hunters should bury carcasses at least 6 feet deep or dispose of them in approved landfills.

Wildlife disease surveillance is key to human safety and early detection and can help wildlife biologists identify changes in patterns of disease occurrence over time.

In fall 2019, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) announced it would coordinate with the Louisiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab