The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has for several years conducted a monitoring program in which adult deer carcasses are tested for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). CWD is a disease of cervids antlered animals that include elk, mule deer and our own whitetail deer. The disease came to the attention of people when it was discovered in captive mule deer in Colorado in the late 1960s. Then in the wild in 1981.
By the mid-1990s, CWD had been diagnosed among free-ranging deer and elk in a contiguous area in northeastern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming, where the disease is now endemic. It is caused by an abnormal protein - known as a prion - that essentially eats holes in the brains of infected animals. In the latter stages of the disease, animals appear disoriented, lethargic and emaciated. They often exhibit excessive thirst, salivation, urination and drooping head and ears. It is always fatal to the infected animal. Anyone seeing a deer exhibiting these symptoms should immediately contact the Iowa DNR.
CWD came to the forefront in Iowa when it was found in Wisconsin. Since 2002, Iowa has tested over 42 thousand wild deer and over 4 thousand captive deer and elk as part of the surveillance efforts.
And since the discovery in Wisconsin, all of Iowa's bordering states have reported cases of CWD. Finally, in 2012, it was discovered in a deer from a captive deer farm in Davis County, Iowa. Transmission of the disease is by direct contact with an infected animal and probably through bodily fluids shed to the ground and picked up there. It stays infective in the environment for several years. This captive deer herd is being monitored by the IDNR. In October, a second deer from this herd tested positive for the disease.
While the wild deer population in the vicinity of the farm will be monitored closely, all of the state's wild deer population is part of the testing program. Samples are collected from all 99 counties in Iowa; however, the majority are taken in the counties nearest to areas where CWD has been detected in other states.
How does the IDNR get enough samples? Samples are collected voluntarily from hunter-harvested deer at check stations and meat lockers. I received word this week that they are still in need of a few more test animals from Grundy County. With the shotgun seasons over, the late archery and muzzleloader season hunters can help play a part in the CWD program. If you harvest a mature buck or doe in the next few weeks of these seasons, contact us and we will get you in contact with the appropriate IDNR personnel. The samples they collect are from brain and spinal material of the deer. Call me at (319)640-5561.
It is also important to make note that at this writing, it is not believed that humans can contract CWD by eating venison; however, the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization recommends that hunters do not eat the brain, eyeballs, or spinal cord of deer, and that hunters wear protective gloves while field dressing game.