ANNAPOLIS ― Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Wildlife and Heritage Service biologists announced today that there was no sign of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in white-tailed deer and sika deer harvested in the 2004-2005 muzzleloader and firearms deer hunting season.
A total of 872 free-ranging deer (861 white-tailed deer and 11 sika deer) were tested out of nearly 75,000 deer harvested during the muzzleloader and firearms hunting seasons as part of the state’s ongoing effort to detect the introduction of the disease into Maryland. The state’s current sampling effort was designed such that if 1 percent of the deer in either population had CWD, there is a 98 percent chance the disease would be detected.
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 is done by euthanizing the deer, then removing and testing the brain stem and retropharnygeal lymph nodes.
DNR biologists collected brain and lymph gland samples during the 2004-05 muzzleloader and firearms deer hunting seasons across all Maryland counties. A number of partner agencies in federal and local governments assisted with the collection of samples.
The Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study (SCWDS) laboratory, an internationally known wildlife disease research lab at the University of Georgia in Athens, conducted the testing of the samples.
CWD has been confirmed in free-ranging cervids within the following states: Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Utah, Illinois and most recently, in New York. It has also been found in captive cervids in the following states: Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Minnesota and most recently in New York. CWD is also confirmed in captive cervids in the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta and in free-ranging cervids in Saskatchewan.
Maryland has tested hunter-harvested deer for chronic wasting disease since 2002 Additionally, Maryland has passed new regulations prohibiting the transportation and importation of deer across state lines in an effort to prevent CWD from coming to the state.
An additional 800 samples of hunter-harvested deer will be tested from all 23 Maryland counties during the coming 2005-2006 deer seasons. The public is asked to report any deer that appear sick to DNR by calling 410-260-8540. Animals that exhibit CWD type clinical symptoms will also be examined by wildlife veterinarians and tested for CWD. Sick deer will be euthanized by DNR staff prior to taking them to the state labs for testing.
In Maryland, it is illegal to import, export or transport live deer in Maryland except by American Zoological Association-certified zoos. It is also illegal to hold any deer in captivity without a valid permit, none of which have been issued since 1984 because of diseases. Any unlicensed deer that is held in captivity is subject to testing for CWD.
While no human has been infected with CWD, hunters and others who handle deer and elk should remain vigilant in their meat-handling techniques. DNR 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 1 hour.
Additional CWD information is available on the DNR website at www.dnr.state.md.us/wildlife/cwdinformation.html and on The Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance web site www.cwd-info.org.