Chronic wasting disease (CWD) continues to spread across North America, devastating deer populations.
Though it has thankfully not reached Europe or the UK, CWD is a major threat to wild and farmed deer that has no known vaccine or cure.
When a deer, elk or moose develops clinical signs of the disease, the result is always death. Like the BSE, or mad cow disease, epidemic that was rife in the UK in the 1990s, CWD is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE). It is the most infectious disease of the TSE family.
There is no evidence it can naturally infect a non-deer species, but the clinical signs of CWD are the same as BSE, meaning that we would not be able to distinguish BSE-infected venison from CWD-infected venison without extensive testing.
After battling against CWD for over a decade, the British Deer Society warns that in many US states ‘it is now beyond control’. As it is resistant to weather conditions and normal disinfectants, the organisation is urging hunters travelling between the US and Europe not to bring potentially contaminated items home.
Worryingly, the disease attaches to soil particles efficiently, meaning that campers, fishermen and walkers must be equally aware of the devastation that CWD reaching the UK and Europe would have.