While Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), also known as mad deer disease, hasn’t spread to Indiana yet, the state is prepared to address a potential outbreak.
The disease can spread rapidly before animals even start to show signs of symptoms.
CWD was first detected in the U.S. west of the Rocky Mountains prior to 2000. Today, the disease has been found in Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
The state of Illinois, however, has taken a creative approach in dealing with their infected populations. Joe Caudell, the State Deer Research Biologist for Indiana’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, says the state has relied on targeted sharp shooters to keep diseased populations in check.
“Hunters wind up being an extremely important partner when it comes to managing chronic wasting disease. In other states, hunters are called upon to do surveillance by bringing us their deer so we can test them,” Caudell says.
Many hunters say they often submit their kills online, but there are still some traditional outlets like meat lockers and gun shops that continue to submit them in-person. Anything that is considered suspect to the individual inspecting the kill is then forwarded to the Department of Natural Resources.
CWD is classified as a prion disease, which means it cannot be killed with antibiotics. But it can survive in deer for up to 14 months. If a deer becomes infected, it will eventually die.
According the CDC, it could take more than one year before infected animals begin to show symptoms of CWD. There’s no evidence that it harms humans.
“We don’t have a lot of evidence either way. There are recent studies that suggest other primates have gotten it from eating infected deer meat, but there has been no direct link between humans developing disease,” Caudell says.
Despite the unclear science, Caudell still believes the problem can be managed.
“We actually talk to our other midwestern states states on a regular basis. We have a midwest health meeting that we attend and also a midwest deer working group where we talk about deer and disease issues.”