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CWD, what hunters can do

February 22, 2019

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a fatal neurological disease infecting deer and elk across North America. Here’s what Oregon hunters can do to help protect our wild deer and elk populations from CWD.

What is CWD?

Chronic Wasting Disease is a fatal, infectious disease that is spread by nose to nose contact between animals and through urine, feces, blood and saliva infecting soils and habitats.

What can you do?

Don’t bring certain animal parts home

If you harvest a deer, elk, moose or caribou in any other state or Canadian province, don’t bring home parts of the animal known to harbor the disease, namely eyes, brains, spinal columns, lymph nodes, tonsils and spleens.

Hunters who bring illegal parts into Oregon will have those parts confiscated and may be liable for the cost of incinerating them.

For more guidance on what parts can be brought into Oregon please see the Parts Ban on page 17 under General Hunting Regulations in the Big Game Regulations. Note that changes to the parts ban regulation took effect Jan. 1, 2019 and now extend the ban to all states and provinces, not just those with a documented case of CWD.

“If we ever document CWD in Oregon, we want to act quickly and will need the support of Oregon hunters. Early detection is our best chance to keep the disease from spreading, should it enter the state. That is why we need the active involvement of hunters and all Oregonians to continue surveillance and keep an eye open for animals that appear sick.” - Colin Gillin, ODFW State Wildlife Veterinarian.

Avoid using deer/elk urine products

ODFW is encouraging hunters to avoid the use of products containing deer or elk urine (scent lures) as part of efforts across North America to reduce the risk of spreading Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).

The prions that cause CWD can spread through the animal’s body fluids (including urine, feces and saliva) and through nose-to-nose contact between infected animals. Prions shed through bodily fluids can bind to soil minerals and remain infectious for long periods in the environment, spreading to new animals for years as deer and elk come into contact with infected soil and possibly plants containing the prions.

There is currently no federal regulatory system in place to ensure CWD is not collected or distributed in urine. Urine production and sale is not regulated by any agency, nor are there any testing or marking requirements of urine products. There is also no rapid, cost effective test to determine if urine collected to create a scent product contains the prions that causes CWD. However, the prions that cause CWD have been detected in urine, saliva, feces, blood and antler velvet.

Learn more

Get your animal tested for CWD

ODFW sets up check stations across the state during some high-traffic hunting weekends to test any harvested animals. Successful hunters are encouraged to stop; the sampling takes only a couple of minutes.

If you are interested in having your deer or elk tested for CWD at other times, contact your local ODFW office to set up an appointment. ODFW is most interested in deer and elk that are at least two-years-old (not spikes). For testing, ODFW will need the animal’s head and one or two vertebrae below the skull – keep your sample cool prior to sampling if possible. To avoid cross-contamination, don’t use the same tool to decapitate the animal and to butcher the meat – have dedicated tools for each job.

When you bring your animal in for testing, ODFW also will take a tooth for aging. You should receive a postcard several months later with information about the animal’s age.

If you see or harvest a sick deer or elk, DO NOT EAT THE MEAT. Report it to the ODFW Wildlife Health Lab number at 866-968-2600 or by email to Wildlife.Health@state.or.us .

Any deer or elk salvaged under Oregon’s new roadkill law is also being tested for CWD.

Take precautions to protect yourself from possible contact with CWD:

  • Don’t take or handle an animal that looks sick.
  • Use rubber or latex gloves when dressing your animal.
  • Avoid handling the eyes, brain, spinal column, spleen, tonsils and lymph nodes when dressing your animal as these areas are where CWD-causing proteins are known to concentrate.
  • Bone out the meat, do not saw through the brain or bone, especially the backbone.
  • Clean your hands and tools thoroughly after dressing an animal. The CWD proteins are very resistant to high temperatures and anti-bacterial soap. Soak your tools in a 50-50 mix of bleach and warm water for one hour to disinfect them.
  • Request that each animal you harvest is processed individually, without meat from other animals mixed in.

How can I tell if a deer or elk Has CWD?

The only way to diagnose an animal with CWD is to sample a part of the brain post-mortem. However, hunters can identify some symptoms of CWD, including, loss of bodily functions, staggering, standing with an exaggerated wide posture, carrying the head and ears low, drooling, drinking large amounts of water, excessive urination and having poor body condition i.e. “wasting” away.

It is important to note the symptoms of CWD are not visible in an animal right away. It may take a few years before an infected animal displays symptoms, but even a healthy looking animal can still be infected.

Can humans get CWD?

There is no evidence that humans can contract Chronic Wasting Disease from eating or handling contaminated meat. However we still recommend you NOT eat any meat from infected animal. Humans are susceptible to other similar diseases such as Mad Cow disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) so it’s best to be cautious.

In 2017, Canadian researchers reported they had macaque monkeys contract CWD after consistently eating infected venison; however, the results of the study are not yet published/peer-reviewed.

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