Chronic Wasting Disease in Arkansas

white-tailed-deerYou may have heard about chronic wasting disease (CWD) recently in the news. But what is chronic wasting disease, and how is it affecting Arkansas wildlife?

What is chronic wasting disease?

Chronic wasting disease is a contagious neurological disease that attacks the brain. CWD belongs to a group of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, or TSEs. TSEs are also known as prion diseases. Prions are abnormal proteins that destroy the brain. CWD affects the behavior and physical condition of the contaminated animal, and ultimately leads to death. Animals contaminated with CWD become emaciated, lose control of bodily functions, and exhibit abnormal behavior. Current data suggests that the disease only affects cervids, or members of the deer family including white-tailed deer and elk.

There is uncertainty as to how CWD is transmitted. The most accepted explanation is that fluids – blood, saliva, urine, and feces – contaminate plants and soil. This is one explanation for transmission. Of course, the disease can also be passed down from mother to offspring. In other words, the transmission can both be direct and indirect. Prions are extremely resilient and can contaminate soil and plant life for years. There’s currently no treatment or vaccine, and no effective method for cleanup or containment of CWD.

First identified in Colorado in the 1960s, CWD is now present across North America. While the highest concentrations of CWD are in the states surrounding Colorado and parts of Canada, there is growing concern over chronic wasting disease in Arkansas.

Chronic wasting disease in Arkansas.

Chronic wasting disease was first detected in in Arkansas in a female elk found in Newton county. The elk was hunter-harvested 12-miles outside of Ponca nearly a year ago. Although the elk was harvested in October of last year, chronic wasting disease wasn’t confirmed from the samples until February of this year. Since then, there have been many more confirmations of chronic wasting disease in Arkansas.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commissionreports CWD confirmations in Boone, Carroll, Madison, Newton, and Pope counties. According to the AGFC, chronic wasting disease has a 23% prevalence in Boone and Newton counties.

The AGFC is currently trying to determine just how widespread CWD is in Arkansas. As of this writing, there are 109 confirmed cases of chronic wasting disease in Arkansas.

How can you tell if a deer or elk has chronic wasting disease?

Some of the key characteristics of chronic wasting disease are a drooping head and ears, a wide stance, thin, emaciated appearance, and odd behavior such as a lack of fear in the presence of humans.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission requests that you report any suspicions of CWD to cwdinfo@agfc.ar.gov.

Can chronic wasting disease affect humans?

Humans and live stock appear to be safe from CWD, but the disease does concern people. That’s because the disease is in the same family as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, otherwise known as “mad cow disease”. However, there is currently no evidence that chronic wasting disease affects humans.That being said, health officials recommend that people do not consumer meet contaminated with CWD. Here are some recommendations for hunters in areas with known cases of CWD.

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