Hunters Should Take Precautions Against Chronic Wasting Disease

Hunters in Colorado should take precautions against chronic wasting disease as they pursue big game this fall and report animals with symptoms to local authorities. Chronic wasting disease in wild game has been documented in Colorado, Illinois, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin, Wyoming and the Canadian province of Saskatchewan.

Experts encourage hunters to be aware of the symptoms of chronic wasting disease, which include thin animals, abnormal behavior, repetitive movement, drooping head and ears, low appetite, excessive drinking and urinating, drooling, tremors and an abnormally wide stance. However, symptoms of the disease may not appear in infected animals for up to 14 months after infection.

Chronic wasting disease affects white tail deer, black tail deer, elk and mule deer. Hunters can play an important role in preventing the spread of chronic wasting disease by taking safety measures when hunting and dressing game with the following steps.

–     Do not hunt, handle or consume an animal that appears to be sick. Contact the local state wildlife office if a deer or elk is showing signs of the disease.

–     Avoid shooting big game in the head or the backbone. This may contaminate the meat. Hunters should wear rubber or latex gloves while handling carcasses. Avoid handling the brain, spinal cord, lymph nodes and eyes when field-dressing game, and humans or other animals should never consume these tissues.

–     After completing any field dressing, hunters should clean hands and any instruments. Knives should be soaked in a 50-50 ratio of bleach and water for an hour, and the knife used for the removal of the head should only be used for that purpose. Household knives should never be used in the preparation of big game carcasses.

–     Normal field dressing and boning out the carcass will remove most body parts known to house the chronic wasting disease infectious agent, and removal of fatty tissue will remove the lymph nodes that also may carry the disease.

–     Avoid sawing through bone. Sections of the carcass should be separated by the joints rather than with a saw.

–     It is unknown if the remains of an infected animal can spread the disease to other wildlife; all remains should be double bagged in plastic sacks and disposed of at a landfill.

Because the protein that causes chronic wasting disease has not been found in muscle tissue of infected animals, so there is no evidence that  the consumption of properly handled and dressed big game is linked to similar illnesses in humans or other animals.

Hunters can have their game tested for chronic wasting disease at 13 laboratories across the nation. In Colorado, state wildlife officials in some chronic wasting disease endemic areas require that hunters test game they harvest. Results are usually available within 10 days to two weeks.

Several states prohibit the importation of hunter-harvested game. These states include California, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, North Dakota, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah and Vermont. The bans do allow the importation of meat that is boned out and hides without attached heads. Skull plates and antlers cannot have any meat attached.

Some diseases similar to chronic wasting disease have been transmitted between species, including from animals to humans. No relationship has been established between chronic wasting disease and other similar diseases, but precautions, such as those that hunters can take, may help prevent further spread of the disease and are recommended for personal protection.

For more information about chronic wasting disease, visit the following links to policy reports written by Colorado State University Cooperative Extension.

Chronic Wasting Disease Overview: Hunter Information:

Economic Implications of Chronic Wasting Disease:

Chronic Wasting Disease: Government and Private Sector Action:

Chronic Wasting Disease and Theories of Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy Transmission:


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