Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

CWD infected deer (NY Dept. of Env. Conservation)By now, just about everyone familiar with deer hunting has learned at least a little bit about chronic wasting disease.

Here in West Virginia, CWD was discovered in 2005 in the state’s Eastern Panhandle, near the Hampshire County town of Slanesville. The state Division of Natural Resources set up a containment zone, placed restrictions on the transportation of animals outside the zone and began sampling the population to discover the extent of the outbreak.

West Virginia is by no means the only state dealing with CWD problems. The true extent of the disease can’t be known because the disease’s delayed onset keeps animal-health officials about half a step behind when it comes to diagnosing chronic wasting disease’s extent and spread.

The University of Georgia’s Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Survey probably has its finger on the national CWD pulse better than just about any other organization. SCWDS officials recently documented what they know in a newsletter devoted exclusively to the the disease. It’s a fascinating read, and it points to the increasingly obvious evidence that captive-deer breeding and high-fence hunting facilities are hotbeds for CWD’s ever-accelerating spread.

Now that’s what I call a nose job!

In this hand out photo supplied by Saving The Survivors, a rhino recovers in an enclosure after being treated by Dr. Johan Marais, an equine and wildlife surgeon, at the Pongola Game Reserve South Africa Friday Aug. 14, 2015. Veterinarians have treated the injured rhino, whose face was mutilated by poachers, by fitting it with a bandage made of elephant hide obtained from a taxidermist  (Johan Marais/  Saving-The-Survivors via AP)
In this hand out photo supplied by Saving The Survivors, a rhino recovers in an enclosure after being treated by Dr. Johan Marais, an equine and wildlife surgeon, at the Pongola Game Reserve South Africa Friday Aug. 14, 2015. Veterinarians have treated the injured rhino, whose face was mutilated by poachers, by fitting it with a bandage made of elephant hide obtained from a taxidermist (Johan Marais/ Saving-The-Survivors via AP)

Wow. Talk about your marvels of modern veterinary science! From the Associated Press:

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Veterinarians in South Africa have treated an injured rhino whose face was mutilated by poachers last week by fitting it with a bandage made of elephant leather.
Dr. Johan Marais, an equine and wildlife surgeon at the University of Pretoria, said Friday that he is experimenting with the elephant skin cover because plastic or fiberglass shields have proven too rigid to fit the contours of an injured rhino’s face.
“We’re looking for a material that’s strong, lightweight but pliable,” Marais said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
Marais, who got the elephant leather from a taxidermist, said it was “ironic” to use a part from one threatened species to treat an animal from another threatened species.
Marais belongs to Saving the Survivors, a group that treats rhinos with poaching injuries. Group spokeswoman Suzanne Boswell Rudham said the hide bandage was obtained by “ethical” means from a dead elephant that had not been poached or shot.
The 12-year-old female rhino with the elephant skin bandage was shot Aug. 5 in Pongola wildlife park in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province and poachers cut off one horn after the rhino collapsed, according to Saving the Survivors.
The poachers apparently fled before cutting the second horn, possibly because the rhino got to its feet. They killed the rhino’s 5-year-old calf and removed its horns.
Marais previously considered a shield made from the leather of a kudu antelope (not strong enough) or a hippo hide (too thick). He installed the elephant skin bandage with steel sutures Monday and hopes it will last four to five weeks until a new bandage is needed.
Marais said he is also considering an elephant hide shield for a rhino named Hope, which survived a similar poaching attack in May.

‘Adenovirus’ blamed for Oregon deer kill

Oh, great. Another deer disease to worry about.

Biologists in Oregon have determined that a recent die-off of black-tailed deer in that state were caused by a variety of adenovirus. According to the following Associated Press report, the virus has struck there before:

MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) — Oregon wildlife officials say blacktailed deer are being found dead in several rural communities in southern Oregon’s Jackson County.
Officials say this is likely a new outbreak of the naturally occurring adenovirus that killed hundreds of area deer more than a decade ago.
The Medford Mail Tribune reports that biologists on Tuesday learned of their first confirmed case of the adenovirus.
Several reports of similar deaths have come recently in Jacksonville, Eagle Point and elsewhere.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife says the deaths are occurring at a rate not seen since 2002, when more than 1,000 blacktails died.
Wildlife biologist Mark Vargas says outbreaks tend to happen during hot, dry months. The virus is also associated with people leaving food and water for animals, which causes unnatural congregations of blacktails and other animals.
Humans and pets aren’t considered at risk.

More on adenoviruses (some of which can be transmitted to humans), can be found here.

Let’s hope the virus doesn’t show up here in West Virginia. With chronic wasting disease present in Hampshire and Hardy counties, and with periodic outbreaks of epizootic hemorrhagic disease, the last thing we need is something else that kills deer.


Scientists find another tick-borne disease

Dog Tick (photo from Wikimedia Commons / Gary Alpert)
Dog Tick (photo from Wikimedia Commons / Gary Alpert)

As if Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever weren’t enough, federal researchers have found a new disease that can be carried by ticks. From the Associated Press:

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Federal health investigators have confirmed that ticks carry the new virus that sickened two Missouri men.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suspected ticks were a likely source of the Heartland virus, which was named for the St. Joseph hospital where the men were treated in 2009.
A study published Monday and authored by Harry Savage, a CDC research entomologist, said samples from ticks taken from the patients’ farms and other land in northwest Missouri have tested positive for the Heartland virus. The study was published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported .
“It’s the first time that anyone found the virus in the environment,” Savage said. “This is yet another tick-borne disease in the U.S., and it’s another reason to take preventative measures to avoid tick attachment and tick bites.”
There are no treatments for Heartland virus, which can cause low white blood cell counts, fever, chills, diarrhea and other symptoms. Both Missouri men, who are the only recorded cases of Heartland virus, recovered after nearly two weeks in the hospital.
When the two men arrived at Heartland Regional Medical Center in 2009 complaining of fever and fatigue, Dr. Scott Folk at Heartland suspected ehrlichiosis, a common tick-borne disease that has infected at least 126 people in Missouri this year. The patients, however, didn’t respond to antibiotics used to treat ehrlichiosis. Folk then sent blood samples to the CDC, where researchers determined it was a new insect-borne virus, but were uncertain which insect was carrying the virus.
CDC scientists traveled to northwest Missouri to collect ticks and mosquitoes in an effort to trace the virus. Samples taken last year from the patients’ farms and the Honey Creek Conservation Area tested positive for the Heartland virus. About one in 500 nymph, or adolescent, ticks collected near one of the patient’s homes contained the virus.
Savage said the Heartland virus is probably spread elsewhere in Missouri too, though there haven’t been any other reports of Heartland illnesses. It’s likely patients have caught the virus and been misdiagnosed, because there is no quick, reliable test.
Dr. Ericka Hayes, an infectious disease specialist at Washington University, said it’s not surprising that the Heartland virus was discovered in Missouri because Missouri leads the nation in tick-related diseases. Preventive measures to avoid tick bites include tucking pants into socks, wearing long sleeves and using bug repellent with DEET.
“If you’ve been outside in Missouri, you should be going over yourself head to toe,” Hayes said. She said it takes 24 hours or more for a tick to transmit a disease to a person. “If you can prevent the tick (from attaching), it doesn’t matter what disease they’re carrying.”

Hat tip: J.R. Absher in The Outdoor Pressroom.

Bass virus shows up in W.Va.


From the Associated Press:

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The Division of Natural Resources say recent samples of fish have revealed the presence of largemouth bass virus in four West Virginia lakes.
Assistant wildlife resources chief Bret Preston says the virus was found at East Lynn Lake in Wayne County, North Bend Lake in Ritchie County, Stonewall Jackson Lake in Lewis County, and Sutton Lake in Braxton County.
Preston says the virus hasn’t been linked to human health issues.
The DNR says bass populations infected with the virus have experienced summer die-offs, depressed growth and less than optimal health conditions.
To minimize the spread of the virus, the DNR encourages fishermen to avoid transferring live fish or water between water bodies, and properly clean and maintain all boats, live wells and tackle.

Escaped elk ignites debate over disease

This week’s column deals with a government agency’s desire to kill an elk that escaped from a captive deer facility. Politicians won’t let them. Read on:

When someone in government does something stupid or embarrassing, the silence from official sources can be tomb-like.
Case in point? Let’s call it “The Saga of the Wandering Elk.”
Sometime last year, a bull elk escaped from a Greene Co., Pa., captive cervid facility and strolled across the Mason-Dixon line into Wetzel Co., W.Va.
It stayed there for a while, wandered back to Pennsylvania through the holidays, and recently turned up in Marshall County, W.Va., where it has become somewhat of a celebrity.
State wildlife officials are worried, and one can hardly blame them for their concern.
Elk can carry chronic wasting disease, bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis. The former kills elk, mule deer and white-tailed deer, and the latter two kill cattle.
Captive cervid facilities – places where deer and/or elk are kept behind tall fences and sold for their meat or shot for their antlers by wealthy people – are notorious incubators for chronic wasting disease.
Recent CWD outbreaks in Minnesota and Missouri wild deer were traced directly to captive cervid facilities. Division of Natural Resources officials worry that the footloose elk might also be diseased, and that it might infect local deer or cattle.
Marshall County isn’t exactly an agricultural hotspot, so the chance of spreading brucellosis or bovine tuberculosis is small. On the other hand, Marshall is home to one of West Virginia’s most highly concentrated deer populations. If chronic wasting disease gets started there, it could easily spread into the Northern Panhandle and down the entire Ohio Valley.
To prevent such a possibility, DNR officials would like to shoot the elk. They haven’t come out and said they would, but they issued a news release that strongly implied it.
Big mistake. Local citizens rallied around the elk. They took to Facebook and other social media to lobby on the creature’s behalf.
It’s an election year. The Legislature is in session. The last thing politicians want to do is to offend prospective voters.
So right now, DNR officials have been told not to pull the trigger. They also are forbidden from divulging which politico issued the stay of execution. In fact, they can’t comment about the elk at all.
More than a week ago, I called a DNR official and inquired about the critter’s status, and was told that all questions should be referred to Hoy Murphy, the agency’s public relations person.
I called Murphy. He wasn’t in, so I left a message on his voice mail. Shortly thereafter, I received the following e-mail:
“I’m sorry, but I’ve been told to put all media communications on hold for now. Things have been changing too fast for anyone to keep up, and they figure it’s better to have no response than to send out a response that may be outdated by the time it sees print. I promise I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”
Not to pick on Murphy, who is a good egg, but there aren’t many things that could change “too fast for anyone to keep up.” Either DNR sharpshooters are allowed to kill the elk or they aren’t.
There’s some question as to whether the elk can be killed on private property without the landowner’s permission, but again that’s an either-or situation.
My personal guess is that the only thing that’s rapidly changing is the potential for northern West Virginia’s deer to have a CWD outbreak. Should that happen, deer hunters should move heaven and earth to find out which politician prevented the DNR from doing something that’s clearly within its authority to do.

Hunter needs rabies shots after killing rabid deer

For the second day in a row, I’m posting a rabies story. This one’s a little unusual, though. It involves a hunter and a rabid deer. Here’s the release from the Pennsylvania Game Commission:

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania Game Commission officials today announced that a Lancaster County hunter has undergone post-exposure rabies shots after harvesting and field dressing a deer on Jan. 20, in Valley Township, Chester County, that ultimately tested positive for rabies.
“The hunter contacted us about his concerns that the deer was unfit for human consumption,” said John Veylupek, Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officer (WCO).  “The hunter said that he saw the deer standing in a creek, straining and growling.  He thought there was a coyote nearby from the sounds the deer was making.
“After gathering information from the hunter, as well as samples for testing, it was determined that the deer was rabid. Because the hunter had scratches on his hands and had field dressed the deer without wearing gloves, we considered this a human exposure and urged him to contact his doctor about post-exposure rabies shots.”
Dr. Walter Cottrell, Game Commission wildlife veterinarian, reiterated the agency’s long-standing recommendations that hunters and trappers avoid harvesting animals that appear sick and to wear rubber or latex gloves when field dressing any mammal.
“All mammals are susceptible to rabies and can spread the virus in the right circumstances,” Dr. Cottrell said. “To prevent the spread of wildlife diseases, we encourage hunters and trappers to contact the Game Commission about any animals that they encounter that may appear to be sick.  Also, when field dressing any mammal, it is critical to wear rubber or latex gloves to prevent exposure to not just rabies, but also to other disease organisms.”

Hat tip: J.R. Absher at The Outdoor Pressroom.

Show-and-tell bat sparks rabies scare

I don’t quite understand why a Rhode Island man felt compelled to walk through Providence holding a box that contained a live bat, but he obviously got something out of it.

Unfortunately, he apparently also felt compelled to show the bat to people. And, naturally, it bit someone. Rabies scare!

From the Associated Press:
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Health officials are warning people who were in downtown Providence last week that they may have been exposed to rabies when a man was showing off a bat he had in a box.
Officials say the man was displaying the animal in Kennedy Plaza on the morning of Jan. 23. A health care provider alerted health officials after treating one onlooker for a bat bite and another for suspected rabies exposure.
Bat rabies is highly contagious. Health officials say they’re not sure if the bat had rabies, but they’re advising people who were at the plaza that morning to have themselves checked out and to call the Department of Health.
Officials say the unidentified man was in his 50s and was about 6 feet tall with a beard and glasses.

Bitten by bat, man dies of rabies

It doesn’t happen often in the United States, but it happened last week in Massachusetts. From the Associated Press:

BARNSTABLE, Mass. (AP) — A Cape Cod man who contracted rabies from a bat’s bite late last year has died of the illness, the first confirmed case of human rabies in Massachusetts since 1935, according to public records and officials.
The Cape Cod Times reports that Kevin Galvin, 63, president of the Marstons Mills Historical Society and owner of a historic home in the center of that village in Barnstable, died Monday in a Boston hospital of the neurological illness.
The state Department of Public Health cited patient confidentiality laws in declining to confirm Galvin’s identity as the person who had been hospitalized, but the newspaper reports that it obtained his death certificate and it lists rabies encephalitis as the cause of his death.
Rabies is a deadly virus that spreads to humans from the saliva of infected animals. The disease affects the central nervous system and brain.
State officials said in December that a Massachusetts man had been hospitalized as the first confirmed case of human rabies in the state in decades, and Barnstable’s health director later elaborated that the victim was a local man in his 60s.
Tests conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the disease was transmitted by a common species of brown bat, although it was unknown exactly when and where Galvin was bitten. Officials have said they believe he was bitten on his own property.
Lee Mannillo of the Cape Cod Rabies Task Force told the Cape Cod Times that Galvin had undergone an innovative treatment called the “Milwaukee protocol.” It treatment involves administering a cocktail of sedatives while allowing the body to produce natural antibodies to fight off the infection.
He died last Monday, and his funeral took place Saturday.
Galvin’s siblings told the Cape Cod Times that they did not want to talk to the media about their brother’s death, and his wife indicated the same through a friend.
Galvin was widely praised by fellow residents who said he was devoted to the Marstons Mills village, where he had lived for 11 years and was active in environmental issues, loved history and enjoyed restoring his 231-year-old home.
To some fellow residents like Al Baker, Galvin was jokingly known as “the mayor of Marstons Mills.”
“I found him to be a very good guy,” said Baker, who said he was shocked by Galvin’s illness and death, finding it “very sad and disheartening.”
Barnstable Health Director Thomas McKean did not return phone calls, and had said earlier in the week that the victim’s family members had requested privacy.
The last confirmed case of human rabies contracted in Massachusetts was in 1935, with the victim believed to have been a teenager from Saugus.
In 1983, a 30-year-old Waltham man died after being exposed to rabies, apparently from a dog bite in Africa. The man developed symptoms, including high temperature, difficulty breathing, sore throat and excessive salivation, about three months after returning to the U.S., and was admitted to Waltham Hospital, according to CDC records. He died a few weeks later.
There have been other instances over the years in which individuals infected elsewhere have received treatment in Massachusetts because of the state’s highly-regarded hospital system.
The CDC said rabies-related human deaths have fallen dramatically in the U.S. from 100 or more annually at the turn of the century to no more than 2 or 3 per year, most but not all involving bats.
The CDC reported two other fatal human rabies cases this year, one in New York and one in New Jersey, with both victims believed to have acquired the disease from dog bites outside the U.S., Haiti in one case and Afghanistan the other.
While U.S. cases are rare, worldwide an estimated 55,000 people die from rabies each year.

More bad news about chronic wasting disease

CWD infected deer (NY Dept. of Env. Conservation)

Chronic wasting disease has now spread to wild, free-ranging white-tailed deer in Missouri. This comes just two years after CWD first showed up in the state at a private captive-deer facility.

From the Associated Press:

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri conservation officials say two free-range deer have tested positive for chronic wasting disease.
The Department of Conservation said Tuesday the two positive test results came from 1,077 tissue samples taken from deer killed in north-central Missouri. Both positive test results were from adult bucks taken in Macon County.
Chronic wasting disease is a neurological disorder that afflicts deer, elk and moose. It’s contagious among those animals, but experts say there’s no evidence that it poses a risk to humans, other livestock, pets or food safety.
The department says it plans get more tissue samples for testing from the area where the two infected deer were harvested. The agency says it appeared the disease was restricted to that area.