I was listening to a popular talk radio show out of Canton on my way into work a couple of weeks ago when the question, “why can’t we harvest deer to feed the homeless,” was posed. Earlier in the broadcast, the cohosts had debated the ethics of an initiative to feed homeless people euthanized Canada geese that were causing a nuisance somewhere else. In both instances, I was concerned about how such undertakings would ensure food safety. Considering the idea of feeding wild deer to the homeless specifically, I was concerned about chronic wasting disease.
Chronic wasting disease affects the brain and nervous systems of infected deer, elk and moose. The contagious neurological disorder causes a spongy degeneration of the brains of infected animals resulting in emaciation, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions and eventually death.
With such horrible symptoms, chronic wasting disease should be easy to identify. The problem is the average time it takes a deer infected with chronic wasting disease to display symptoms ranges from 18 to 24 months.
Chronic wasting disease in Ohio and Pennsylvania
Chronic wasting disease has been found in both captive and free-range deer in Pennsylvania. As a precautionary measure, the state game commission has set up Disease Management Areas and provided additional resources to hunters, taxidermists and processors handling deer carcasses in and around these locations.
In Ohio, chronic wasting disease has only been detected in captive deer, with the first case confirmed in January 2018. Since that time, portions of Holmes and Tuscarawas counties have been declared a Disease Surveillance Area and the state has established new carcass rules for hunters who hunt wild deer, elk, caribou and moose in other states.
Although there have been no reported cases of chronic wasting disease in human beings, the Centers for Disease Control has done studies that suggest the disease poses a risk to some types of non-human primates, like monkeys, that eat meat from infected animals or come in contact with brain or body fluids from infected animals.
How does chronic wasting disease spread
Chronic wasting disease spreads through:
- Animal-to-animal contact
- Food and soil contaminated with bodily secretions including feces, urine and saliva
- An environment that’s been contaminated by a diseased carcass or carcass parts
Precautions for hunters
Those hunting in or near areas where chronic wasting disease has been confirmed, such as Pennsylvania’s Disease Management Areas and Ohio’s Disease Surveillance Area, should take the following precautions recommended by Penn State University Extension:
- Don’t shoot, handle or eat and deer that is acting abnormally or appears to be sick.
- Contact the state agency where you are hunting — the Pennsylvania Game Commission or Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife — if you see or harvest an animal that appears sick.
- Wear latex or rubber gloves when field dressing a deer.
- Bone out the meat from your animal. Don’t saw through bone and avoid cutting through the brain and spinal cord.
- Minimize the handling of brain and spinal tissues.
- Wash hands and instruments thoroughly after field dressing is done.
- If you have your deer or elk commercially processed, request that your animal is processed individually, without meat from other animals being added to meat from your animal.
- Have your animal processed in the same area of the state where it was harvested so that high-risk body parts can be properly disposed of there. If you hunt out of state, only bring permitted materials back to your home state.
- Avoid consuming brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils and lymph nodes of harvested animals. (Normal field dressing coupled with boning out a carcass will remove most, if not all, of these body parts. Cutting away all fatty tissue will remove remaining lymph nodes).
- Avoid consuming the meat from any animal that tests positive for chronic wasting disease.
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