Over the last year and a half, I have desperately tried to avoid writing about anything related to Covid. I felt like there were plenty of other folks scaring the mess out of everyone without me adding to it. That said, I cannot deny that Covid hasn’t been a major factor in my life, and everyone else’s, for almost two years. My family has fortunately been spared the tragedy that many families have had to deal with. I’m grateful that we’ve yet to encounter the virus in any way aside from minor inconveniences in our day to day life. However, just when I think we are starting to turn a corner with the virus, new studies show that deer can contract it and pass it to humans.
Many game animals have to deal with various diseases, a lot of which can be transferred to humans. Take rabbits for example. Rabbits sometimes carry a disease called Tularemia. It’s been known to kill off large populations of rabbits in the wild, and it also has the ability to be transferred to humans. People can get Tularemia through tick bites or from handling and eating undercooked meat. The symptoms of Tularemia vary greatly, from fever and a headache to much more serious problems, like pneumonia and even death. Trichinosis is another disease passed on from wild game to humans. Trichinosis, most often is acquired through eating undercooked bear meat. Once you have trichinosis, the odds are that you’ll have it for life…even if you don’t realize it. Symptoms of Trichinosis range from diarrhea to fever and muscle pain. Both, Tularemia and Trichinosis can be treated with medication.
The fact that game animals are affected by disease can be chalked up, in my opinion, to nature doing its thing. The animal kingdom is not unlike any other in that there has to be a balance. The new studies that show Covid in deer populations shouldn’t come as a surprise. Deer have been dealing with various diseases for a long time and will continue to do so in the future. Deer have been known to contract Hemorrhagic Disease, more commonly known as “blue tongue”. This disease is brought on by small, biting flies mainly during the summer months. Hemorrhagic Disease is not always fatal in whitetails, but ranks among the top leading causes of death in otherwise normally healthy deer. Fortunately, this disease has never been known to be transferred to humans from consumption of meat from an infected animal. State reports showed a rise in Hemorrhagic Disease in deer populations for 2021 in Mississippi.
Brain abscesses are another common problem for whitetail deer. These abscesses often occur from bacterial infections in wounds on a whitetail’s head. Wounds to the head are common, especially in whitetail bucks that engage in fights with other bucks. Deformed antler growth can also be a source for the infection that causes abscesses. This is not an immediate death sentence for whitetails, but it can be fatal. Once again, this is something that is fortunately not passed on to humans.
The most common disease that deer contract in North America, and the most popular to talk about before the announcement of Covid in deer, is Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). As of this summer, CWD has been confirmed in 25 different states, including Mississippi. I have a hard time accepting that if it’s been found in Mississippi there’s no cases of it in Alabama or Louisiana. I also have a hard time believing that it hasn’t been here for longer than we think. We didn’t just miraculously stumble onto the first few deer in the state to have the disease. It’s been here and it’s staying here.
CWD is not treatable in whitetails, and it’s 100% fatal. A deer may have CWD and not show any signs or symptoms for over a year. I’m not a scientist, and I had to change my college major from Biology to History after taking Anatomy and Physiology (true story), but CWD is caused from a prion. From what I’ve learned about prions you pretty much can’t kill them without the aid of a nuclear weapon. If a CWD infected deer dies in the wild, and its body decomposes, those prions can even live in the soil where the decomposed body was for a lengthy period of time. Why does this matter, you ask? Let’s say grass grows where this decomposition took place and another deer feeds on that grass. Technically, that deer could potentially now be infected with CWD. That’s why I believe CWD was in Mississippi long before we ever knew for sure that it was here.
The million dollar question is, “How do we keep CWD from spreading?” To me, the short answer is we can’t. However, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do everything we can to slow the infection. I’ve long said that there are entirely too many corn feeders in Mississippi. One way to slow infection is to get rid of them. I might lose two of my four readers after making that statement, but I believe this is a surefire way to slow the spread of CWD. It’s well documented throughout the country that the use of feeders is a great way to spread the disease. Deer often acquire CWD through saliva, and what do feeders do? They bring deer to one specific spot to feed, often in large numbers. Proper disposal of remains could also go a long way in the prevention of the spread of CWD. Tossing a carcass out in the neighbors pasture isn’t only distasteful, it could also help the spread of the disease. There goes another reader.
Thankfully, so far there’s been no reports of CWD in humans. Now, I wouldn’t shoot a deer that exhibited symptoms of CWD with the intention of eating that animal, but for now you can rest easy about consuming venison. If you do see, or kill, a deer that is acting odd and shows signs of potential CWD, it’s best to contact your local wildlife officer. You can also report all of this to the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries on their website. As hunters, our number one job is conservation and making sure that future generations are able to enjoy hunting and fishing as much as we have been able to. All of that being said, the rut is starting so hurry up and get in the woods.