Two Wisconsin Deer Test Positive for Chronic Wasting Disease

by Amy Myers
(Photo by Jeffrey Phelps/Getty Images)

Wisconsin officials confirmed that two whitetail deer have tested positive for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), the fatal infection that has been affecting deer, moose and elk all over the country and threatening populations and hunting industries for decades.

On Friday, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection discovered that two whitetails in Portage County had the disease. While the specimen can’t spread the illness to humans or other livestock species, the newly infected deer could point to an increase in cases in the state.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, CWD is caused by misfolded proteins called prions. The illness can spread through body fluids from deer to deer, such as saliva, blood, feces or urine. CWD can also spread indirectly through contaminated water, food sources and soil.

Wisconsin officials found the two infected whitetails on a 200-acre farm with a herd of roughly 370 deer. The farm is now under quarantine, joining the 34 others that have had tested positive for CWD cases since 2001. Following the National Veterinary Services Laboratories, U.S. Department of Agriculture veterinarians and officials are conducting an investigation into the area.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Center for Disease Control recommends that hunters who have harvested deer in affected locations bring their game in for testing before consuming the meat. CWD cannot affect humans or livestock, but precautionary testing could help prevent the disease from spreading to other populations.

The Other IIllness Affecting Deer Populations Across the Country

CWD isn’t the only disease that state departments have kept a close eye on. Lately, there have been an alarming amount of confirmed cases of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) in whitetails across the nation. Similar to the findings in Wisconsin, EHD can put entire deer populations in jeopardy and can spread fairly quickly.

This year, in New York alone, 700 deer in seven counties died from EHD. In North Dakota, the state refunded 30,000 hunters for their licenses in order to prevent harvesting and therefore further spreading the disease.

Unlike the illness affecting Wisconsin deer populations, though, EHD does not spread through body fluids. In fact, officials found that it doesn’t spread from deer to deer at all. Instead, tiny midges carry the fatal illness and jump from one animal to another, bringing the infection with them.

Thankfully, these destructive insects don’t thrive well in cold conditions, and often, when a state sees its first frost of the fall, the midges die out, taking the annual cases of EHD with them. However, by the end of summer, the bugs return and so, too, do the number of affected deer. Because of the gnats’ temperature preference, warmer weather late in the year means more cases of EHD and hundreds more deceased deer.