Kelly Straka and Jake Rieken of the Missouri Department of Conservation inpecting elk calf

Kelly Straka and Jake Rieken of the Missouri Department of Conservation inspecting elk calf

Kelly Straka, state wildlife veterinarian for the Missouri Department of Conservation, joins me on this final installment of our Google Hangout chats during the month of June.  For the past four weeks, we’ve focused on deer management and deer health.  In this week’s discussion we pay particular attention to Chronic Waste Disease or CWD.

CWD threatens Missouri deer, Missouri’s nearly 520,000 deer hunters, millions of wildlife watchers, thousands of landowners, 12,000 Missouri jobs, and hundreds of businesses and communities that depend on the $1 billion boost in economic activity related to deer hunting and watching.

As Kelly explains, CWD infects deer and other members of the deer family, called cervids. CWD is transmitted through abnormal proteins that attack the nervous systems of these species. CWD is spread both directly from deer to deer and indirectly to deer from infected soil and other surfaces. Animals with signs of CWD show changes in natural behavior and can exhibit extreme weight loss, excessive salivation, stumbling, and tremors.  The disease has no vaccine or cure. CWD is 100-percent fatal. Deer and other cervids can have CWD for several years without showing any symptoms. Once symptoms are visible, infected animals typically die within months.


Are we at harm and what steps can we take to insure our safety?  Kelly answers those questions and states that further research and testing continues.

“As of right now there is no evidence it can infect dogs, cats, even cattle or horses,” says Straka.  “There hasn’t been any examples of it infecting any other species outside of the deer family.  It can contaminate water supplies and the environment.”

However, Straka is quick to point out that while there are concerns, research continues.

“Just because some of these proteins may be shed in a water source, fortunately dilution will help a lot of that, but it is a concern.”  Straka adds, “As of right now, the Centers for Disease Control is doing a lot of research…there is no evidence that humans can be infected by CWD, but again it is a very active field of research.  Our best recommendation is using common sense when you’re field dressing an animal.”

Some of the tips include:

–Do not handle or consume any animal that is acting abnormally or appears to be sick.

–Contact your state game and fish department if you see or harvest an animal that appears sick.

–Wear latex or rubber gloves when field-dressing deer or other cervids.

–Bone out meat from the animal. Don’t saw through bone and avoid cutting through brain or spinal cord (backbone).

–Minimize handling of brain and spinal tissues.

–Wash hands and instruments thoroughly after field dressing is completed.

–Avoid consuming brain, spinal cord (backbone), eyes, spleen, tonsils and lymph nodes of harvested animals. Normal field dressing coupled with boning-out a carcass will remove most, if not all, of these body parts. Cutting away all fatty tissue will remove remaining lymph nodes.

–Avoid consuming meat from any animal that tests positive for CWD.

Watch Kelly and this week’s Google Hangout.

The Department of Conservation has a web page dedicated to CWD and taking the proper precautions.   Also, as hunters prepare for the upcoming hunting season, the Missouri Department of Conservation encourages you to fill out the comment card provided on their website at

There are also three dates remaining next week on the MDC’s Open House schedule.

July 7: Hannibal – Quality Inn Atlantis Ballroom, 120 Lindsey Drive
July 8: St. Joseph – Missouri Western University 218/219 Blum Union, 4525 Downs Drive
July 9: Columbia – Hilton Garden Inn Magnolia Room, 3300 Vandiver