LANSING, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – Researchers are warning hunters and the public of other associated dangers this deer hunting season besides other hunters, including Chronic Wasting Disease. 

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has threatened deer populations in the U.S. since it was first discovered in 1967 in Colorado, and has since spread to at least 31 states including Michigan according to Sonja Christensen, an assistant professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife in Michigan State University’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. 

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 “The first CWD case in Michigan was discovered in 2008 in a captive whitetail and next in 2015 in a free-ranging deer,” accordion to Christensen, “Since then, the disease has emerged in both the lower and upper peninsulas, but according to the MDNR, no new counties saw positive cases in 2022 sampling.” 

CWD is a neurodegenerative condition caused by an abnormal protein, prions, according to Christensen, and is fatal for all mammals that have solid deciduous antlers. 

“Transmission is thought to be caused by direct or indirect contact with infectious prions in bodily fluids like urine, feces or saliva,” she said in a statement. “Studies show that prions can persist in the environment for years, meaning current exposure risks in a given area may stem from the presence of infected deer from long ago. Symptoms of CWD can take months or years to emerge and may include rapid weight loss, disorientation and fatigue, among others.”

Since 2015, there have been more than 240 cases of white-tailed deer in the state of Michigan. According to research, long-term population decline can occur for mammal populations with a high percentage of CWD. 

“While CWD has never been conclusively detected in a human, my rule of thumb is that if it looks sick and you are concerned, do not eat it. Past research indicates some barrier exists between transmission of CWD from deer to humans, but more research is needed on this front.”

The Michigan DNR’s current guidelines on testing is a good place to check for sick symptoms and hunters who see deer matching the conditions are encouraged to report it to the DNR. 

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“Finding a newly infected deer can be like finding a needle in a haystack, and we need all the eyes and ears we can get!,” according to Christensen. 

Her research includes a recent study published in the Journal of Wildlife Management, which among other findings, discovered that managing CWD is more complex due to white-tailed deer ecology. 

“The persistence of prions in the environment, long-range deer movement and interactions with humans, such as the transportation of CWD-positive carcasses, are all unpredictable factors that our team’s models were designed to account for,” according to Christensen. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as of March 2023, there were more than 405 counties in over 20 states with CWD reported in free ranging herds.  The states with the most countries reporting cases are Kansas with 49 counties, Nebraska with 43 counties, and Wisconsin with 38 counties. A full list can be found here