Earth Connection is a school of primitive skills and wilderness survival located in Northern Virginia and North Carolina (Raleigh/Durham area) that has been in existence for over a decade. Our hands-on classes are reasonably priced because we don't believe in big price tags for primitive skills. That's just not natural!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Chronic Wasting Disease Risk?

The good news…

There is no evidence that Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is linked to disease in humans or domestic livestock other than deer and elk.

According to 2004 research, the risk, if any, of CWD transmission to humans is low. There have been no documented human cases of prion disease with strong evidence of a link with CWD.

To date CWD has not been found in Virginia. The closest eastern state is West Virginia, next is New York.

What is CWD?

CWD is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy in the same genetic family as mad cow disease, scrapie (affecting sheep) and Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (affecting humans) that is found in White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus), Mule Deer (O. hemionus), and Elk (Cervus elaphus) populations mostly in the western states. Visible manifestations of CWD include weight loss over weeks or months, behavioral changes (show little fear of humans) and excessive salivation (may look like slobbering). In some animals, head tremors may occur. Most animals gradually die within several months of illness.

The disease has forced the slaughter and incineration of thousand deer and elk in the West since 2000. CWD is known to occur in free-ranging deer or elk in Alberta, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Saskatchewan, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. CWD also has been diagnosed in captive deer and elk in Alberta, Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Saskatchewan, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

The bad news…

The 2005 discovery of CWD in New York is causing immense fear and loathing amongst Eastern State's wildlife resource officials, hunters and primitive skills enthusiasts. This should serve as a warning to those of us primitive skills practitioners that regularly harvest deer by hunting and occasionally by picking up fresh road kill for either hide or meat. It would be wise to look for the signs of infection before butchering and using the animal, especially in the case of using the brain for primitive hide tanning.

Furthermore, research “evidence suggests that, provided sufficient exposure, the species barrier may not completely protect humans from animal prion diseases including CWD. CWD does not appear to occur naturally outside the cervid family. However, the passing of CWD to a secondary host (domestic animals, such as cattle and sheep) by infected deer could not only increase the extent and frequency of human exposure, but also alter its infectious properties, increasing its potential for becoming more pathogenic to humans. Because CWD has occurred in a limited geographic area for decades, an adequate number of people may not have been exposed to the CWD agent to result in a clinically recognizable human disease. Because of the long incubation period associated with prion diseases, convincing negative results from epidemiologic and experimental laboratory studies would likely require years of follow-up. In the meantime, to minimize the risk for exposure to the CWD agent, hunters should consult with their state wildlife agencies to identify areas where CWD occurs and continue to follow advice provided by public health and wildlife agencies. Hunters should avoid eating meat from deer and elk that look sick or test positive for CWD. They should wear gloves when field-dressing carcasses, bone-out the meat from the animal, and minimize handling of brain and spinal cord tissues. As a precaution, hunters should avoid eating deer and elk tissues known to harbor the CWD agent (e.g., brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils, lymph nodes) from areas where CWD has been identified.”1

1. Belay ED, Maddox RA, Williams ES, Miller MW, Gambetti P, Schonberger LB. Chronic wasting disease and potential transmission to humans. Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2004 Jun. Available from:

What you need to know about Earth Connection Brain Tanning Classes:

The hide itself will not be infected and can be used for hide tanning. All the hides used in our classes come from local sources and are not affected by CWD. We will make the decision whether to use the deer’s brain for the traditional hide tanning class or some other hide tanning alternative like pig brains or egg yolk after consulting local wildlife officials of the current risk.

Recommended precautions outside of class:

  • Do not shoot, handle or consume any animal that is abnormal or appears to be sick. If you see a sick deer, please contact the local Wildlife Department immediately.
  • Wear latex or rubber gloves when field dressing your deer carcass.
  • Bone out meat from your animal. Do not saw through bone and avoid cutting through the brain or spinal cord (backbone).
  • Minimize the handling of brain and spinal tissues or fluids.
  • Wash hands and instruments thoroughly after field dressing is completed.
  • Avoid consuming brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils, and lymph nodes of deer. Normal field dressing coupled with boning out a carcass will remove most, if not all, of these body parts.

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