Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a neurological disease affecting the cervid family – deer, elk, moose, reindeer, and caribou. It causes characteristic spongy degeneration in the brain of an infected animal.
CWD belongs to a group of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). TSEs are believed to be caused by prions, which are abnormal proteins that self-replicate within an infected animal. Prions are highly resistant to disinfectants, heat or freezing. There are no vaccines or treatments for TSEs, and they always are fatal.
The disease can be spread from both direct (animal-to-animal) and indirect (environmental) contact with infected deer. Prions are shed through saliva, urine, blood, feces, and antler velvet. Additionally, carcass parts from a dead infected deer can serve as a source of further infection to other deer in the area. By concentrating deer on the landscape through artificial feeding, or by providing attractants such as salt licks, humans can increase the likelihood of both direct and indirect contact.
A white-tailed deer was found dead in a backyard in Grand Rapids this week. The deer was struck by a vehicle, but in the course of testing it was discovered that the deer was positive for CWD. This discovery has led the DNR to update its response plan to better reflect a statewide approach to disease surveillance, management, control, and education.
There now are eight areas spread across Minnesota, from north to south, where CWD has been found in wild or farmed deer. Despite these detections, the disease remains rare in Minnesota. Fewer than 1% of deer have tested positive for CWD in areas where the disease has consistently been detected during the past five years.
Since 2002, DNR has tested 106,000 deer statewide and 153 have tested positive. Most of those cases occurred in southeastern Minnesota.
Enhanced surveillance from the DNR will include:
- Updating the DNR’s CWD response plan this spring
- Investigating options for hunters to use a self-mailing kit for free testing statewide
- Expanding the taxidermist network (partner sampling program) statewide
- Upgrading and improving current design for self-service sampling stations for hunters
Senate DFLers remain vigilant in protecting the state’s wild deer population from chronic wasting disease and will continue to work with the DNR and Board of Animal Health in doing so.