After extensive testing, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has not found any evidence of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in the state’s white-tailed deer population.

The FWC tested 636 free-ranging deer during the past year and more than 3,000 deer during the past five years, with no CWD-positive results.

FWC’s wildlife veterinarian Dr. Mark Cunningham said, “While we can never say that Florida is entirely free of the disease without testing every deer, this sample size gives us very high confidence that if CWD is present in Florida, it is at low levels. However, even low numbers of CWD-positive deer would be cause for concern, so we plan to continue testing for the foreseeable future.”

CWD is a contagious neurological disease that has been found in captive and wild herds of mule deer, white-tailed deer and Rocky Mountain elk within several Midwestern and Western states. The disease causes degeneration of the brains of infected animals, resulting in emaciation, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions and death.

Thus far, no Southeastern states, including Florida, have been hit by the deer disease.

To reduce the chances of CWD turning up in Florida, the state prohibits importing carcasses of any species of deer, elk or moose from 14 states and two Canadian provinces where CWD has been detected.

States and provinces currently with CWD include New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois, New York, West Virginia, and Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada. Visit the United States Department of Agriculture’s Web site at www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/animal_diseases/cwd for the most up-to-date CWD reporting.

“Early detection is the key to limiting the spread of the disease, if such an outbreak should occur in Florida,” said Deer Management Section leader Dr. Robert Vanderhoof of the FWC’s Division of Hunting and Game Management.

Once again, this hunting season the FWC is turning to hunters and members of the public for assistance in helping monitor the state’s deer herd for CWD.

“We’re asking hunters to report any sightings of sickly or scrawny-looking deer, or deer dead of unknown causes,” Vanderhoof said. “If you see such a deer, call toll-free 1-866-CWD-WATCH (293-9282). Please do not handle the deer. Wildlife biologists will respond, and if necessary, collect deer tissue for testing. It’s important to contact us as soon as possible, because such testing must take place within 48 hours of a deer’s death to yield reliable results.”

CWD WATCH is part of an aggressive monitoring program to ensure CWD is not already in Florida and the disease does not spread into this state.

There is no evidence that CWD poses a risk for humans, however, public health officials recommend avoiding direct contact with any sick-looking deer or one that has died from unknown causes.