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Wildlife Diseases

Chronic Wasting Disease

Chronic Wasting disease is a prion disease
(an abnormal, transmissible agent that is able to induce abnormal folding of normal cellular prion proteins in the brain, leading to brain damage and the characteristics signs and symptoms of the disease. Prion diseases are usually rapidly progressive and always fatal.) that affects North American Cervids (hoofed ruminant mammals, with males charecteristically having antlers). Mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk and moose are all known natural hosts of the disease. CWD was first identified as a fatal wasting syndrome in a captive Mule deer in Colorado in the late 1960's and in the wild in 1981. Determined to be spongiform encephalopathy in 1978, there has been no strong evidence of CWD transmissions

CWD is highly transmittable within deer and elk herds. Evidence as to the specifics of how it is transmitted have not been verified but speculation is focused on direct animal to animal contact or as a result of indirect exposure to prions in the environment through contaminated feed or water sources.

Becuase of the long time between exposure to the disease and symptoms surfacing, many years of of continued follow-up and monitoring will be required to to determine what the risk, if any, is to humans.

The geographic range of the diseased animals includes 13 U.S. States and two Canadian Provinces and continues to grow. To view Nebraska counties where it has been reported, view CWD Reports.

In order to minimize the risk of exposure to CWD, hunters should:

  • Talk to their state wildlife agencies to identify areas where CWD occurs and take appropriate precautions when hunting those areas.
  • Avoid eating the meat of animals that look sick or may test positive for the disease.
  • Hunters should consider having their deer tested for CWD if they are hunting in areas known to have reports of CWD before consuming the meat (check with NGPC Wildlife Agency staff about where to have this done)
  • Hunters should wear gloves when field dressing deer, bone-out the meat from the animal and minimize handling of the brain and spinal cord.

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Bovine Tuberculosis

Bovine Tuberculosis (TB) is a progressive, chronic bacterial disease caused when bacteria attack the respiratory system of primarily cattle, but also deer. The disease compromises the immune system and can lead to death from related causes. If left unchecked, the disease would likely spread and become established within the deer population. As a result of this, there would be permanent risk of continuous deer-to-deer or deer-to-livestock transmission of the disease. Bovine TB in animals typically presents in the lungs

As a chronic disease, Bovine TB can take years to develop. The disease grows very slowly and only replicates every 12-20 hours. The lymph nodes in the animal's head usually show infection first and as the disease progresses lesions will begin to develop on the surface of the lungs and chest cavity. In severely infected deer, lesions can usually be found throughout the animal's entire body.

How is bovine TB transmitted?

Bovine TB is spread primarily through the exchange of respiratory secretions between
infected and uninfected animals. This transmission usually happens when animals are in
close contact with each other. Animals may also become infected with TB by ingesting
the bacteria. Thus, animal density plays a major factor in TB transmission. Bacteria
released into the air through coughing and sneezing can spread
animals. Research also suggests that bovine TB can also be contracted from ingesting
contaminated feed.


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