By SPIROS GALLOS
Capital News Service
LANSING — Michigan hunters insist they’re not too concerned with the threat of diseases infecting the wild game they hunt this season.
Still, hunters will need to consider chronic wasting disease (CWD) and the West Nile Virus in the next few years.
“I don’t think chronic wasting’s going to be a really big issue around here for a while,” Jack Millikin said.
Millikin, owner of Skip’s Sports Shop in Grayling, said his customers are more concerned with bovine TB, which is in the area.
“A lot of hunters are having trouble adjusting to changes like baiting being prohibited,” Millikin said. Contrary to hunters in Grayling, the Department of Natural Resources is more worried about CWD.
Although CWD has not been discovered in Michigan, it’s seen as a greater problem than bovine TB, which is currently within Michigan, according to Dr. Steve Schmidt, the veterinarian in charge of the DNR wildlife diseases lab near Lansing. “CWD is so contagious that it could spread through herds much easier than bovine TB.”
As for the West Nile Virus, Dick Hansen of Manistee has not heard anything about wild birds in the Manistee area contracting the disease. “We haven’t had any incidence of West Nile around here.”
While the West Nile Virus is commonly found in crows, it has also been discovered in wild turkey, Canada geese, rough grouse, ringneck pheasant and mallard, all birds that are hunted in Michigan, according to Tom Cooley, a biologist for the DNR.
After house finches tested positive in late August, the DNR tested many other species and found West Nile Virus in red tail hawks and grey horn owls, Cooley said.
West Nile Virus can be found in horses, but hasn’t yet been found in any wild game mammals like deer or elk. The DNR has no surveillance plan in place for mammals, but it does have one for birds and one for mosquitoes.
“We are not proposing a surveillance plan for mammals in Michigan,” Cooley said.
Currently the only way for a human to contract West Nile Virus is from the bite of an infected mosquito, but the DNR urges everyone to handle all dead birds with care, using a plastic bag or rubber medical gloves.
Hunters should also use an insect repellant that contains the active ingredient DEET on all exposed skin and clothing.
Area farmers are encouraged to use insect repellants on their horses and to drain standing water in troughs and buckets to curb the spread of the virus as well.
But West Nile virus isn’t the only malady affecting game that’s on the minds of hunters: CWD is just across the border in Wisconsin. Although that disease is not here yet, it may soon be within our borders, said Dr. Willie Reed, director of animal health and diagnostics at Michigan State University.
“CWD started in Colorado and has slowly been moving east across the country,” Reed said. “It’s likely that there may be some cases of CWD found in Michigan in the near future.”
The disease attacks the central nervous system of white-tailed deer, mule deer and elk, resulting in poor body condition and behavioral abnormalities.
CWD is caused by mutated proteins, known as prions, which occur naturally in deer and elk. Prions also cause mad cow disease.
The reason CWD is so hard to detect is that there is no test for live animals. “Because no antibodies are produced, it’s impossible to detect in a living deer,” Schmidt said.
The only current method for identifying a deer with CWD is a process called immuno-histo staining. Scientists stain the brain tissue of a dead animal to determine if the animal was infected, according to Schmidt.
“We’re hoping to develop a new method soon,” Schmidt said.
Current research shows that the disease can be transmitted only from animal to animal, leaving humans immune. “But that’s not to say further research might show that CWD is contagious to humans,” Schmidt said.
The DNR has also established an artificial border for infected deer, according to Anne Wilson, the DNR communications representative in the Upper Peninsula. She said that if Wisconsin finds an infected deer within 50 miles of Michigan, baiting regulations for the deer would be revised.
If an infected deer is found within the 50-mile buffer zone of either peninsula, baiting will be outlawed in that peninsula, said DNR press secretary Brad Wurfel.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By SPIROS GALLOS