Concerns rover Chronic Wasting Disease jumping from deer to humans

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – As Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) spreads in Tennessee, there are concerns the disease could jump from deer to humans. 

“Back in the back of my brain, is it a concern? The answer is yes,” says Dr. William Schaffner, Vanderbilt University Medical Center. 

The concern grows as CWD spreads. 

“It has been spreading among deer in the United States over the last decade,” he says. 

Now CWD is in more than 2 dozen states (including Arkansas), according to the TWRA. 

“It’s an illness that affects the brain of the deer and makes them non-functional and eventually will lead to their death,” explains Dr. Schaffner. 

CWD is very similar to Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease or CJD found in humans, both are prion diseases. 

“There is a concern since the two illnesses are similar. Is it possible that this, it’s called a prion…it’s like a virus, could it jump species? Is it possible to go from the deer to humans? That is theoretically possible, hasn’t been found yet, theoretically possible and so that’s been under surveillance and under careful study for 10 years or more,” he continues. 

If CWD were to jump to humans, experts say it would be by consumption of contaminated deer meat. 

“The incubation period from the time of exposure, presumably by eating contaminated meat from deer for example, to the development of the disease can take years,” he says. 

If CWD is found in humans, the number of human cases could be substantial. 

“If there were transmission from deer to humans, the first case would be the first case, but then there would be another and then yet another…so the public health problem would become defined more explicitly over time,” Dr. Schaffner says. 

CWD was first discovered in Tennessee a few months ago. The TWRA says it has now confirmed the disease in three counties; Fayette, Hardeman, and Madison. 

To try and contain the disease, the agency has set up a management zone, which encompasses eight counties.  

Statewide, TWRA was able to test samples from almost 54-hundred deer during the 2018-19 deer hunting seasons. They plan to have all of those results in by the end of the month. TWRA then plans to complete the final development of the long-term CWD management plan. 

The TWRA has information about where you can test your deer on their website (click here).

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