No Evidence of CWD in Whitetail Deer Population

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Thanks to a federal grant and the cooperation of hunters, landowners, and deer processors, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources recently completed the most in-depth surveillance effort for Chronic Wasting Disease in South Carolina with no evidence of the disease detected.

Sampling was conducted in all South Carolina counties and the findings, from more than 500 total deer; give natural resources officials, hunters, and other deer enthusiasts reason to believe that South Carolina may avoid this potentially devastating disease.

Chronic Wasting Disease or CWD is a Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE) that affects deer and elk, according to Charles Ruth, Deer Project leader for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Although the disease has not been diagnosed in South Carolina or any other Southeastern state, it has been found in 12 states and two Canadian provinces. TSE's are fatal neurological diseases characterized by degeneration of the brain. TSE's that affect other animals include scrappie in sheep, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (commonly called "mad cow disease") in cattle, and Creutzfeld-Jakob disease in humans. There is no indication that CWD of deer and elk can be transmitted between species other than cervids (deer family), and both the World Health Organization and federal Centers for Disease Control have indicated that there is currently no indication that the disease can infect humans.

"CWD attacks the central nervous system of the deer or elk and presents symptoms including extreme weight loss, excessive salivation and urination, odd behavior and poor coordination," Ruth said. "The disease in deer or elk is infectious, communicable and always fatal. CWD has a prolonged incubation period (up to five years), and no current test exists to detect the disease in live animals. Diagnosis requires examination of the brain or lymph nodes."

The CWD agent is believed to be a prion, which is a mutated protein that causes normal proteins in the body to fold abnormally, which causes sponge-like holes in the brain. It is not known exactly how CWD is spread, but it is believed that the agent may be spread both by direct animal-to-animal contact and indirectly by contact with a previously contaminated surface like the soil.