A mule deer harvested Nov. 2 near Heart Mountain tested positive for chronic wasting disease. It’s the first time the disease has been found in Hunt Area 121, east of Cody.
Wyoming Game and Fish officials made the announcement a few days ago.
CWD is a fatal illness that can afflict mule deer, whitetail deer, elk and moose and while there has never been a proven link to transmission of the disease to humans, authorities recommend against eating the meat from such an animal.
That is the policy of Game and Fish, following guidelines established by the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control.
Cody regional wildlife management coordinator Tim Woolley said it is common practice for Game and Fish to send out notices if a CWD deer is discovered in a new area.
“We tell people we’ve got our first positive,” he said. “It shows how that disease is moving across the state. It just shows it’s there.”
Woolley said 15 years ago chronic wasting was pretty much confined to the Wheatland area, but it has slowly spread to different areas of Wyoming. A case of CWD was reported in Hunt Area 122, adjacent to this one, in 2007.
When hunters harvest a mule deer and bring it to an agency check station, an official on the scene removes the animal’s lymph nodes, places it in a freezer box and brings it to the main regional office.
After the deer are registered, the lymph nodes are shipped to the state wildlife health laboratory in Laramie for CWD testing.
Josh Kipley, who was on duty at the West Yellowstone Avenue check station Nov. 1-10, said about half of the hunters he encounters know about chronic wasting disease and that the state is monitoring it.
The preserved lymph nodes are shipped to Laramie about once a week. Kipley said 116 were sent a week ago and 74 the week before that.
When hunters check in their kills they are given a tag with an identification number that allows them to follow up on the test results of their deer.
“You go online in about two or three weeks,” checker Paul Cross told a hunter.
In addition to that tool for notification, Woolley said the lab now sends a letter to any hunter whose deer turns up positive.
Game and Fish prints a brochure entitled “Chronic Wasting Disease In Wyoming” that provides background
information on the disease and what hunters should know.
The science surrounding CWD is not explicit on some fronts and is based on best evidence. The attack on the animals’ central nervous system is believed to be caused by “abnormal proteins called prions.”
There is a belief CWD is spread between animals by saliva, urine, feces or carcasses. The disease gradually kills the infected following symptoms such as weight loss, lethargy and excessive drinking and urinating.
The entire philosophy of not devouring infected animals is based on extreme caution.
“We don’t recommend that people eat it,” Woolley said.
There is no proof of danger in eating infected animals now, but CWD has a long incubation period and there is an underlying concern the disease could jump species.
“We don’t know if it will come out in 20 years,” Woolley said. “Hopefully not.”