Wasting disease confirmed in deer in Ohio

REYNOLDSBURG — The Ohio Department of Agriculture confirmed that a deer recently killed in Guernsey County was infected with chronic wasting disease.

As a result, the department is carefully monitoring the situation to try and prevent the spread of the disease.

Mark Bruce, communications director with the Ohio Department of Agriculture, confirmed that a deer recently tested positive for the disease. Bruce said the animal was killed at Dakota Outfitters near Quaker City and had been purchased from Walnut Hollow Whitetails outside of Sugarcreek, Ohio. Bruce said both facilities are now under quarantine.

The Department of Agriculture monitors the possible spread of the disease in captive herds in Ohio, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources keeps an eye on the wild deer population. There have been no confirmed cases of wild deer in Ohio contracting chronic wasting disease.

“The main reason captive deer populations are under the Department of Agriculture’s authority is because of our ability to monitor for this and other diseases,” Bruce said.

He added that every time a deer is killed from a captive population such as a hunting preserve, a sample is sent to the ODA for testing, so the agency can try and stay ahead of the disease.

According to information on the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website, chronic wasting disease is a fatal illness that targets the nervous system of several different deer species, including the common white-tailed deer. CWD will eventually destroy the brain tissue of the host animal, resulting in death.

Animals that are suffering from CWD might have a staggering, uneven gait, walk with their heads low to the ground, and show little fear if approached by people. Deer in the late stages of the disease often have bones showing through their hides, and they appear sick or emaciated, giving the disease its name; the deer appear to be wasting away. Unfortunately for those individuals trying to track the disease, the symptoms are also shared by other afflictions, making it hard to tell when it’s a case of CWD.

The DNR website states that CWD is transferred by direct contact among animals. The disease can also be spread through bodily fluids, and the prions that cause the illness can linger in the surrounding soil for months or years. The disease can also remain in carcasses after death, meaning that in some places the state has enacted restrictions on how and where carcasses can be transported by hunters.

Deer suffering from the disease may be spotted by hunters or other outdoorsmen. Although science says that CWD cannot be transmitted to humans by any means, including consuming meat from an infected deer, the Department of Agriculture recommends not eating meat harvested from a deer showing the symptoms of the disease.

If a hunter is dressing a deer that looks to be suffering from CWD, ODNR recommends using rubber gloves, boning the meat from the carcass and avoiding cutting through the spinal cord or brain, as the disease concentrates in those body parts. Hunters are also advised to avoid the eyes, spleen, tonsils and lymph nodes.

Hunters who wish to have their deer tested can pay a $33 fee to the Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab at the Ohio Department of Agriculture in Reynoldsburg; deer with head wounds likely will be unsuitable for testing. For more information, call the lab at 614-728-6220.

Bruce said that if a hunter kills a deer that might be suffering from CWD, they should contact either the Department of Agriculture or ODNR, depending on whether the animal is from a captive or wild population. Bruce said the two agencies regularly communicate on issues such as CWD.

“We work closely with our state partners at the ODNR to monitor all of the deer in state,” Bruce said. “It is important to the state of Ohio to have healthy deer populations.”