The Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife announced today that there was no sign of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in white-tailed deer harvested in the state’s 2004-2005 muzzleloader and firearms deer hunting season.

As part of the state’s ongoing effort to detect the introduction of the disease into Delaware, a total of 300 deer, 100 from each county, was tested out of 14,584 deer harvested. The state’s current sampling effort was designed such that if one percent of the deer population had CWD, there would be a 95 percent chance the disease would be detected.

According to Division deer biologist Ken Reynolds, plans are to double the sample size next hunting season so that there will be a 99 percent chance the disease would be detected. Delaware has tested hunter-harvested deer for chronic wasting disease since 2003.

CWD is fatal to deer and elk species. The disease attacks the brain and spinal cord of the animals and is believed to be caused by prions, which are modified proteins. CWD is classified as a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy similar to “mad cow disease” in cattle and scrapie in sheep. Thousands of deer have been destroyed across the country in an attempt to contain the disease. Currently, there is no live animal test to confirm the presence of this deadly disease. Confirmation can only be done by euthanizing the deer, then removing and testing the brain stem and retropharnygeal lymph nodes.

Division biologists collected brain and lymph gland samples during the 2004-05 muzzleloader and firearms deer hunting seasons. Testing of the samples was done at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center Lab of Large Animal Pathology and Toxicology.

CWD has been confirmed in wild deer and elk in Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Utah, Illinois and, most recently, in New York. It has also been found in captive herds in Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Minnesota and New York.

The public is asked to report any deer that appear sick to the Division of Fish and Wildlife by calling 302-653-2883.

While no human has been infected with CWD, hunters and others who handle deer and elk should remain vigilant in their meat-handling techniques. The Division of Fish and Wildlife recommends the following common sense tips for handling any harvested deer:

  • Avoid shooting or handling a deer that appears sick.
  • Wear latex or rubber gloves when field-dressing or butchering deer.
  • Remove all internal organs.
  • Remove the meat from the bones and spinal column.
  • Do not use household knives or utensils.
  • Avoid cutting through bones or the spinal column (backbone).
  • Never eat a deer’s brain, eyeballs, spinal cord, spleen or lymph nodes.
  • If you saw off antlers, cut through a bone, or if you sever the spinal cord with a knife, be sure to disinfect these tools prior to using them for the butchering or removal of meat.
  • Remove all fat, membranes and connective tissue from the meat. Note that normal field dressing and trimming of fat from meat will remove the lymph nodes.
  • Always wash hands and instruments thoroughly after dressing and processing game meat.
  • Use a 50/50 solution of household chlorine bleach and water to disinfect tools and work surfaces. Wipe down counters and let them dry; soak knives and tools for one hour.