North Carolina

Mysterious deer disease has wildlife officials trying to keep it out of the Carolinas

Deer infected with chronic wasting disease behave oddly, drooling, losing weight and coordination, and “walking in set patterns,” according to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

Tennessee just joined the list of states — 26, along with three Canadian provinces — with CWD, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. The disease was found in two counties in the western part of the state near Memphis, the newspaper reports.

The spread of the disease has officials in North Carolina and South Carolina worried, according to notices from both states, and restricting what people can bring back when they cross the border to hunt.

CWD is also known as “zombie deer disease,” according to Forbes.

States in red have confirmed cases of chronic wasting disease. SC DNR

How the disease spreads is still a mystery, according to the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance, which tracks CWD. “The infectious agent may be passed in feces, urine or saliva. Transmission is thought to be lateral (from animal to animal). Although maternal transmission (from mother to fetus) may occur, it appears to be relatively unimportant in maintaining epidemics,” the Alliance explains.

“Because CWD infectious agents are extremely resistant in the environment, transmission may be both direct and indirect.” the Alliance notes. “Contaminated pastures appear to have served as sources of infection in some CWD epidemics,” the organization states.

“The disease has been spreading east for several years, and in some Western and Midwestern states, the deer population has been severely impacted,” N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission member Brad Stanback told the Asheville Citizen-Times recently.

North Carolina officials explain the disease: “The source of the disease is an abnormal prion (a form of protein) that collects in the animal’s brain cells. These brain cells eventually burst, leaving behind microscopic empty spaces in the brain matter that give it a ‘spongy’ look. As this occurs, it often causes behavior changes such as decreased interactions with other animals, listlessness, lowering of the head, a blank facial expression, and walking in set patterns.”

To stop the spread of the disease, North and South Carolina both now have strict guidelines in place for what parts of deer, elk and moose can be brought in from states with known CWD outbreaks. Both states ban importing anything that could include brain or spinal material, and anything must be cleaned and packaged under specific guidelines to keep the disease out of the Carolinas.

See the full guidelines for North and South Carolina from the N.C. Wildlife Commission. In South Carolina, the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources uses the same set of rules.

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Charles Duncan covers what’s happening right now across North and South Carolina, from breaking news to fun or interesting stories from across the region. He holds degrees from N.C. State University and Duke and lives two blocks from the ocean in Myrtle Beach.