A nightmare scenario has arrived as early testing returned positive findings for chronic wasting disease in Tennessee despite regulation overhauls to combat its spread.
Seven white-tailed deer in Fayette County and three in Hardeman County, in the western portion of the state, have preliminarily tested positive for the disease, according to a release from Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. It is the most significant threat to the deer population nationwide, according to TWRA officials.
"Once arrangements are made, TWRA will be encouraging hunters harvesting deer in these areas to submit their deer for testing," said Chuck Yoest, TWRA chronic wasting disease coordinator, via a release.
The disease, widely known as CWD, is a fatal neurological disorder that affects members of the deer family and is 100 percent fatal. The disease causes drastic weight loss, stumbling, listlessness and other neurological symptoms before eventual death. There is no treatment or vaccine to cure it. Scientists believe the disease is still contagious long after an infected animal is dead.
New regulations were put in place this year to try to prevent its spread into the state.
Any deer, elk or moose harvested outside the state must have its meat removed from the bone before being brought into Tennessee. The amended rules also require antlers brought into the state to have cleaned skulls. Teeth must be cleaned, and taxidermy and antler products must be finished.
Next year, the use of natural deer urine will also be banned.
The disease has been found in 25 states and three Canadian provinces. Last week, Mississippi announced a preliminary finding in Marshall County, which had previously been the closest documented finding to Tennessee. It was the fourth finding in Mississippi this year. Other confirmed cases have been found in border states of Arkansas, Missouri and Virginia.
The disease has no known risk to humans or livestock. It is spread through animal-to-animal contact, animal contact with a contaminated environment, and with contaminated feed or water sources.
"Hunters are our biggest ally in managing chronic wasting disease in Tennessee if it is confirmed here," said Dan Grove, Wildlife Veterinarian at University of Tennessee extension, via a release. "Besides submitting deer from the to-be-defined CWD Zone, the most important thing everyone needs to do is follow the regulations for moving harvested deer.
More information about CWD, including cervid import restrictions, and videos that explain how to properly dress an animal before transporting it, can be found on the TWRA's website.