Fear Through the State: Chronic Wasting Disease


Photo Credit: Kaiya Kearns

A mule deer up by Deadwood Idaho during the summer of 2021.

Kaiya Kearns, Social Media Editor

Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD, was confirmed in Idaho on November 16, 2021. CWD is a very contagious and fatal neurological disease that affects deer, elk, and moose, but it’s not caused by a virus or bacteria. The main effect that it has on the deer pertaining to humans, however, is that CWD makes the deer’s meat nonconsumable. These two Mule Bucks that were infected were killed by hunters in October in the Slate Creek drainage in Idaho County.

This disease has been in the Western U.S. for over 40 years, but this is the first time it has been in the Gem state. The disease happens due to proteins in the animal’s body malfunctioning. Those proteins don’t impact the animal’s body, just the brain. This infection spreads from animals’ bodily fluids. It is very difficult to keep contained because it can live outside an animal’s body for years just waiting for another animal to come across and pick it up. 

Idaho Fish and Game Commissioners met Nov. 22 to discuss management tactics, which included an emergency hunt for sampling purposes. This helps to determine where you’re at in the outbreak. Meanwhile over 1,500 deer tags have been made available starting December 7th for surveillance hunts, and people are encouraged to get any harvested deer or elk tested. Idaho Fish and Game staff extract the lymph nodes from the animal, and there is no cost to the hunter. Hunters can also collect lymph node samples on their own and for them to drop off at one of Fish and Games collection sites. However, the meat and muscle tissue cannot be used to test for CWD. The test results will return back to the hunter in 4 to 6 weeks.  

Many people’s concerns surround the posing question of, can humans get CWD? The answer is we don’t really know. Granted, there has never been a reported case of CWD found in humans. However, some animal studies suggest that CWD can pose risks to certain primates. For example, monkeys that eat meat from a Chronic Wasting Disease-infected animal or come in contact with brain or body fluids from the infected animal, have gotten the disease. Even though there have never been traces of this disease in humans, no one wants to take the risk of getting it. CDC officials say, “since 1997, the World Health Organization has recommended that it is important to keep the agents of all known prion diseases from entering the human food chain.”

This is also a big deal because if your animal that has been harvested tests positive for CWD, all of that meat has to be thrown away. This is devastating for hunters because the reason they hunt is to provide food supply for the year. The work, time, and money put into hunting is essentially just thrown away. People who use hunting as a main food source are greatly impacted by this disease. It is important to see how dangerous this disease can be, since there is not a lot of information about its impact on humans.