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By: Carl C. Stafford
A positive case of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is confirmed in a male deer harvested in 2018 in Culpeper County Virginia, this reported by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VGIF). See the summary of this report at the link provided: http://www.nbc12.com/2019/04/19/deer-tests-positive-chronic-wasting-disease-culpeper-county/
Citizens may not be familiar with this disease but will remember the cow that stole Christmas in 2003, a cow of Canadian origin imported into the United States and later found to be positive for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy. A brain disease similar to CWD in deer, Scrapie in sheep, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans to name some of the known types of spongiform brain diseases found in mammals. Veterinarians providing information to Extension Agents on the potential for the spongiform disease to be transmissible to humans comment that these are not found to be zoonotic, meaning they do not move between species. A zoonotic disease would be brucellosis, found in animals and humans and capable of moving between them.
Chronic Wasting Disease in deer is present in Virginia in border counties adjacent to West Virginia where it is believed to have originated on deer farms, a place where animals are more confined than in the wild. The opportunity for transmission is higher when animals are close together. The Culpeper case was discovered because of regular surveillance by game wardens working with taxidermists and hunters.
VGIF rule prohibits feeding deer during hunting season, and it would be a wise move for readers to follow this rule year round. While it is clear, many people enjoy seeing deer and outside of the scheduled hunting season will lawfully offer food to attract deer for their viewing pleasure, this well-intentioned practice is not necessary to survival. In fact, it will increase the likely hood of disease of all kinds spreading among closely associated animals. Offering food to wildlife is of primary benefit to us. You like seeing them up close and share this with family.
“Problems with feeding deer include: unnaturally increasing population numbers that damage natural habitats; increasing the likelihood for disease transmission; increasing human-deer conflicts such as deer/vehicle collisions, and diminishing the wild nature of deer.” They will forage on their own and are naturally limited if the diet is short. Feeding them increases dependence on an artificial supply. Deer coming together to eat your feed increases the chance for disease transmission too. The disease of greatest concern is CWD.
“It is also illegal to feed deer year-round in Clarke, Frederick, Shenandoah, and Warren counties and in the City of Winchester as part of the Department’s CWD management actions.” Other counties could be added to this list. VGIF is prohibiting deer feeding year round in these counties in hopes of reducing crowding around food, a condition thought to lead to the transmission of CWD. According to VGIF, “It is clear that the negative consequences of feeding deer outweigh the benefits. If you are not feeding deer, you should not start. If you are currently feeding deer, you should now stop.”