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  • Writer's pictureBruce Smith

CWD rages on

It's been some time since I posted about chronic wasting disease (CWD), the neurodegenerative and 100% fatal disease of cervids, species in the deer family. My concern grew out of working for years with elk populations in western Wyoming, a state in which CWD now infects cervid populations in all but one of its counties. There, 23,000 elk are artificially concentrated and fed each winter at feedgrounds. Such crowded conditions foster disease transmission in animals, including humans as you'll recall from the Covid pandemic, or your child or grandchild's daycare facility.

A few years back CWD was regularly in the headlines as it spread from state to state across the US, infecting deer, elk, and moose. As the disease was newly discovered in states from the eastern seaboard to Idaho, it made the news. And well it should because of the mortality it inflicts on infected populations, its transmissibility, and the lack of tools to prevent or cure it. And ... the pathogen that causes it, misfolded proteins called prions, can cause similar neurological disease in humans as well. So there persists this concern about human infection from consumption of harvested venison. The CDC and state health departments advise successful hunters to have their animals tested, and if infected, dispose of the meat.

Even though we haven't heard as much about it lately, CWD is still around, spreading and so far infecting wild cervid populations in 29 states and 3 Canadian provinces (see map). This linked article relates the current situation in Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada, where prevalence continues to rise. The article is short and well worth reading.


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