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UPDATE: Chronic Wasting Disease has been found in Tensas Parish

UPDATE: A second laboratory has confirmed the first lab's finding of Chronic Wasting Disease.

Chronic Wasting Disease has been suspected to be found in a white-tailed deer harvested near Newellton, Louisiana. The harvested animal received a preliminary positive test result from the Louisiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at Louisiana State University. Confirmation is pending from the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa.

Dr. Jim LaCour, a small animal and wildlife veterinarian, states that this finding is not totally unexpected.

Chronic Wasting Disease, CWD, is a central nervous disease that is caused by infected proteins, also called prions. The disease is affecting mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, and moose. Prions are originally found in the brains of healthy animals. However, researchers believe that the disease is caused by the misfolding of normal prion proteins which causes brain damage.

The disease is fatal and there are no current vaccines.

Animals can pass the disease to others indirectly and directly. The prions can be found in the animal’s tissue and bodily fluids, such as in the blood and muscles. Although it is most commonly found in the brain, eyes, spinal cord, lymph nodes, tonsils, and spleen. It is also present in decaying carcasses. Once the prions are in the environment, they can last for years. They can be absorbed into the soil and absorbed by the plants. Feeding deer is often discouraged because large numbers of animals frequenting one spot can infect others.

There is currently no evidence to show that this disease can affect humans. However, the CDC recommends not to eat CWD-infected animals. There is concern that the consumption of infected meat could cause illnesses in humans similar to CWD or Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD). Dr. Kim Marie Tolson, a biologist at the University of Louisiana Monroe, said, “This was the case with mad cow disease.”

CWD was first identified in the late 1960s in a captive deer at a Colorado research facility. It was later discovered in a wild deer in 1981. Since the 2000s, the fields that are known to be affected by free-ranging animals have increased to 28 states. It is projected that these areas will continue to expand. When talking about the CWD response plan, Dr. LaCour said, “It may involve feeding and baiting bans or carcass exportation bans out of that area.”

Hunters need to be aware of areas that are affected by CWD. Dr. Tolson says, “Hunters will have to be more vigilant when harvesting deer.” If hunters want their deer tested, they should contact their local department of wildlife and fisheries field office.