Editor’s note: After seeing two TV news reports Saturday evening, Feb. 16, on Zombie Chronic Wasting Disease, the Sun called the Missouri Department of Conservation to learn about this disease I’d never heard of. News Director Joe Jerek directed me to Jasmine Batten, MDC Wildlife Disease Coordinator, who had never heard of it either, but she is the MDC expert on Chronic Wasting Disease. I interviewed her on Friday.
Media reports of Zombie Chronic Wasting Disease are “fake news.” I know you’ve heard that term a lot from the White House.
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is real and has been with us in the wild Missouri deer herd since 2012, probably brought into north Missouri in captive deer from other states.
CWD takes 18 months to 2 1⁄2 years to show up after an animal is exposed. The most common carriers are adult bucks, probably because they make the rounds to various doe groups.
Researchers have reportedly transmitted CWD to macaque monkeys but have not concluded their testing. Meanwhile, go to MDC.mo.gov/CWD for more information. Have your deer tested if you hunt in an area with CWD, don’t handle brain and spinal cord tissue and wear plastic gloves when processing deer.
Interview with Jasmine Batten, MDC Wildlife Disease Coordinator
Q. Tell me about Chronic Wasting Disease in deer.
There’s a bunch of research going on.
CWD infects deer and elk. A number of other species have been infected with CWD experimentally, but most of these studies do not mimic anywhere near what natural exposure might look like. In 2017, researchers from Canada and Germany announced that they gave Macaque monkeys (often used as a model for humans in research, from Northern Africa and Southern Europe) CWD after feeding them meat from CWD-positive deer and elk. They have not concluded that study. It is ongoing. Research from other groups since that time have found different results.
Following recommendations from human health experts, hunters should take minor precautions: wear gloves when processing deer and not handle brain or spinal cord tissue.
Q. Why is the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) just now releasing this? I heard that there was a test two years ago in Germany.
The CDC actually hasn’t made any changes to their recommendations regarding CWD, though they did strengthen their recommendations a bit in 2017. They have long recommended that hunters avoid eating deer that are known to be infected with the disease. From what I am aware, there have been no new warnings released. There has been no new evidence brought forward. To my knowledge and all my colleagues knowledge, there are no new results out there, no new research.
Q. What was the media calling it?
The media has really caught on to the term “zombie deer disease.” I think this is unfortunate, because this is just not an accurate term and perhaps takes away from the real story in some ways. A significant proportion of deer and elk that are infected today actually appear normal, and are unfortunately out on the landscape spreading the disease. CWD is a degenerative neurological disease. When deer do show symptoms it is only in the late stages, and at this point they often show progressive weight loss, decreased social interaction and loss of awareness, almost the opposite of what we think of when we think of “zombies.” For whatever reason somebody threw that terminology out there and it stuck. To my knowledge and everybody I talked to in other states, there is no new research published.
Q. Is CWD the same as Mad Cow Disease?
No, they are similar but not the same.
Q. Can humans get Mad Cow Disease from eating tainted meat?
Q. So what is the current recommendation from the CDC or from Conservation?
MDC encourages hunters to follow the recommendations from the CDC. If you hunt in a area that you know has the disease, have your deer tested before you eat it.
Q. How long does it take to get the test back?
It varies depending on the time of year. During the mandatory testing the first weekend of deer season, it took up to four weeks just because of the high volume. In the slower time of hunting season, it takes more like a week or two. We’re working really, really hard to reduce that time. It’s just a matter of capacity and volume now. There are not that many labs that do the testing.
We split the load to keep one lab from being overloaded.
Actually, the University of Missouri just got involved a couple of years ago and that has been