Last week, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries cautioned deer hunters about the use of deer urine lures because of the potential these products could contain chronic wasting disease (CWD). CWD is a neurodegenerative disease found in most deer species, including moose, elk, mule deer and white-tailed deer. It is infectious and always fatal. The disease has already caused strict regulations regarding bringing in wild game from other states to prevent spread of the disease.
CWD can be a huge problem.
The good news is that CWD has not been discovered in Louisiana but has been in 25 states including Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi. LDWF has tested nearly 9,000 deer since 2002 and has not detected CWD in Louisiana.
According to the LDWF, urine production and sale is not regulated by any state or federal agency. The production of these lures includes collecting urine through grates at captive cervid facilities that allow mixing with saliva and feces, which typically have a higher CWD prion content than urine. The CWD prion is spread by infected animals through saliva, feces, urine, blood, antler velvet and decomposing carcasses.
The bad part of this latest regulation is that there is no proof the disease does spread through these products. But LDWF Veterinarian Dr. Jim LaCour said there is no way to guarantee deer urine lure products do not contain the deadly disease. Seven states have banned the use of deer urine lures, including Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Virginia. As of now, it is not banned in Louisiana, but hunters should use it with extreme caution.
LDWF worked with the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission (LWFC) in 2017 to implement a carcass importation ban, a viable step in preventing the disease from entering the state via infected carcasses.
When CWD was discovered in a Mississippi deer near the Louisiana border in January of this year (2018), the LWFC enacted a feeding ban in order to minimize comingling of animals at feeder locations in East Carroll, Madison and Tensas parishes, parishes nearest to the discovery. Although that ban was rescinded in June, LDWF encourages hunters not to utilize supplemental feeds for hunting as this increases the chance of spreading diseases among animals using bait stations.
Louisiana Congressman Ralph Abraham, M.D., R-Alto, introduced a bill in July aimed at stopping the spread of CWD. The bill would require the Secretary of Agriculture to partner with the National Research Council of the National Academies of Science (NRCNAS) to study and identify the ways CWD is transmitted between wild, captive and farmed cervids. This will provide a credible and scientifically-based foundation of understanding of the disease that can help end its spread.
CWD is similar to BSE (Bovine spongiform encephalopathy or mad cow disease) of cattle and scrapie in sheep. These diseases cause irreversible damage to brain tissue that leads to salivation, neurological symptoms, emaciation and death of the animal. Deer infected with CWD can spread the disease even before symptoms develop. It can take one to two years for infected animals to become symptomatic. When symptoms appear, they can include emaciation, lethargy, abnormal behavior and loss of bodily functions. Other signs include excessive salivation, loss of appetite, progressive weight loss, excessive thirst and urination, teeth grinding and drooping ears.
The big CWD Question:
Can humans get CWD from eating venison or contacting deer infected with CWD? Apparently the answer is “we don’t know“. You can google it, but you get answers like this:
“Increasing spread of CWD has raised concerns about the potential for increasing human exposure to the CWD agent. The foodborne transmission of bovine spongiform encephalopathy to humans indicates that the species barrier may not completely protect humans from animal prion diseases. Conversion of human prion protein by CWD-associated prions has been demonstrated in an in vitro cell-free experiment, but limited investigations have not identified strong evidence for CWD transmission to humans. More epidemiologic and laboratory studies are needed to monitor the possibility of such transmissions.”