NDA Responds to Misleading CWD Article

November 19, 2019 | by National Deer Alliance

The following is a letter to the editor of the Altoona Mirror in Pennsylvania by NDA president and CEO, Nick Pinizzotto in response to a misleading article about ways CWD is spread that was published by the paper:

I am writing in response to the November 3, 2019 article, Spread of CWD remains unclear, written by staff writer Russ O’Reilly for the Altoona Mirror. While those of us working to slow the spread of CWD across the country appreciate coverage on this important topic, the headline and subsequent article was misleading and in some cases inaccurate. While it is fair to say that there remain many unknowns when it comes to CWD, we have learned a lot about how it spreads in the past decade.

Studies show prions—defective proteins that cause CWD—can be spread through direct deer-to-deer contact or through contact with infected environments. We know infected deer shed prions in saliva, urine, and feces, and once in the soil these prions can remain infectious for years.

Some studies also suggest scavengers may play a role in disease transmission. While it has been shown in laboratory studies that crows and coyotes fed CWD prions later defecate them, there is zero evidence that this has led to disease transmission in either free-ranging or captive deer. If scavengers would play a role in CWD transmission, it is likely much smaller than transmission through direct deer-to-deer contact or through contaminated environments.

Movement of high-risk deer parts, however, is a big risk for spreading CWD to new areas. The brain, eyes, tonsils, lymph nodes (in the head), spinal cord, and spleen are considered high-risk because of higher concentrations of prions in these parts. Transporting these parts out of a disease management area and dumping these parts on the landscape increases the risk of exposing a healthy deer to the disease or creating a “hot spot” by contaminating the soil in that area.

With no way to cure CWD in deer or method to clean prions from the soil, we must limit the spreading of this disease to new areas. Therefore, hunters who harvest deer in a disease management area (DMA) are prohibited from transporting high-risk deer parts out of the DMA.  

Options are available for hunters who harvest deer within a DMA to properly dispose of their high-risk deer parts through a commercial trash service that goes to a lined landfill. However, hunters who hunt within the DMA but need to take their deer home outside of the DMA have two other options: 1) dispose of high-risk parts in lined dumpsters provided by the Game Commission or 2) leave the high-risk parts on the landscape close to the kill site.

Yes, these methods of disposal are not perfect, and allow for scavengers to encounter the carcasses. However, they do provide hunters who live outside of a DMA with an option that will help reduce the spread of CWD to new uninfected areas. It is important that hunters continue to hunt in DMAs to help achieve harvest goals, and it’s equally important that deer harvested there do not get moved to new areas.