Massachusetts’ deer population shows no evidence of chronic wasting disease (CWD), based on data gathered during the 2003 hunting season. MassWildlife Deer Biologist Bill Woytek recently received results from a federally certified veterinary diagnostic laboratory that indicate that all the deer brain samples taken during last fall’s hunting season tested negative for CWD.

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal neurological disorder known to affect white-tailed deer, mule deer and elk. However, the World Health Organization has concluded that there is no evidence that people can become infected with CWD.

During the fall 2003 deer hunting season, MassWildlife collected 301 heads from hunter and car killed deer across the state for testing. The monitoring is part of a nationwide effort to identify areas with CWD. Samples were also taken in the 2002 season and showed no evidence of CWD.

Chronic wasting disease was first identified in 1978 and remained located in Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska for about a decade. Jurisdictions in which CWD is currently found include Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming; plus Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada. A nationwide effort is underway to prevent further spread. This effort includes collecting annual samples of deer brain tissue as part of ongoing monitoring and surveillance efforts.

While research continues, current information suggests that CWD is most likely transmitted by an abnormal protein present in the nervous system and lymphatic tissue of infected animals. These abnormal proteins are very stable and may persist in the environment for long periods, posing a risk to animals that come into contact with them. For more information on CWD, click on a website produced by the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance www.cwd-info.org