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Did Arkansas overreact to CWD? Not likely

by Bryan Hendricks | September 3, 2017 at 2:40 a.m.

As new information emerges, I'm coming around to accepting that the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission acted appropriately to contain chronic wasting disease in north Arkansas.

At first I thought the commission overreacted. It seemed that suspending the 3-point rule in the CWD containment zone and advocating wholesale herd reduction was a classic case of shutting the barn door after all the cows escaped.

By all accounts, we had CWD around the Buffalo National River for 20 years. We were all happy and healthy until the day we went to the doctor and found out we've been sick for two decades.

That's why I spend so much time talking to wildlife biologists in other states. Resource managers in other states believe they can be candid with a reporter in Arkansas without the fear of being eviscerated for their thoughts in online message boards or behind closed doors in staff meetings.

Our guys seem to have it right, and they are trying to do it right to keep CWD from spreading to the rest of the state.

The Arkansas CWD episode stunned the deer management profession. Our case is unique because we went from zero reported cases to 28 percent prevalence in the hot zone in the span of a few weeks. That's unprecedented, and it spooked deer biologists everywhere.

Terry Minzey is the regional wildlife supervisor in the Upper Peninsula for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. He was eerily somber as he discussed our situation in comparison to what has happened in his part of the world, especially in Wisconsin.

"If you're wondering if Arkansas overreacted, take a look at what can happen," Minzey said.

Wisconsin was the first big test case for CWD in whitetailed deer. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources's initial response was to wipe the slate clean and start over.

It didn't work. Prevalence rates continue to climb. There are counties where the prevalence rate in adult bucks went from about 2 percent to 40 percent. The WDNR has essentially punted. Control and containment efforts have stopped, and the WDNR has curtailed testing.

WDNR staff members are not even allowed to comment on CWD except to respond to a direct question.

Wyoming might represent a worst-case scenario. Biologists expect whitetails to be extinct in Wyoming in 48 years, and mule deer to be extinct in 40 years. Extinct. Let that steep in your cup for a few minutes.

Even so, enthusiasm for deer hunting remains high, mostly because of the belief that humans can't contract CWD from eating venison.

Now, we're not so sure.

Since 2009, Stephanie Czub of the Canada Food Inspection Agency and the University of Calgary has compiled data from exposing 18 macaque monkeys to CWD. CWD prions were introduced to the macaques intravenously, by skin contact and by injecting it into the brain. Some were also fed CWD-infected meat.

Results are available from five animals. Two that were exposed to CWD by direct introduction into the brain, one that was administered infected brain material orally and two that were fed infected meat all have become infected with CWD.

People are estimated to consume as many as 15,000 deer that are infected with CWD annually. So far, no human is known to have contracted the disease. However, reported cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, the human variant of CWD, have risen nationally from 260 in 2002 to 481 in 2015.

There is certainly no scientific data that link the commensurate rise in Creutzfeldt-Jakob and CWD, but it would be imprudent to dismiss the possibility given all we don't know. Remember, we went from zero to 28 percent prevalence in certain areas virtually overnight in Arkansas.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease occurs mainly in people over age 60. Hunters in that demographic have consumed a lot of venison since 2002 and before, and incubation periods for prion diseases can range from several years to decades.

The Centers for Disease Control says that meat from infected deer should not be eaten and that hunters should have their deer or elk tested if it came from an area where the disease is known to exist.

Minzey, a scientist, said that he has every deer he kills tested for CWD, and he does not eat the meat until it is confirmed negative. He said his family eats a lot of venison, but he can't bear the thought of feeding his grandchildren something that might hurt them.

I feel the same way.

Sports on 09/03/2017

Print Headline: Did Arkansas overreact to CWD? Not likely


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