RALEIGH, N.C. — Chronic wasting disease still has not turned up in North Carolina deer, according to recent statewide tests.

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has tested more than 1,800 deer since 1999 for chronic wasting disease, or CWD. The fatal, contagious illness has afflicted deer and related animals in 13 states and two Canadian provinces. Most outbreaks have occurred in western and midwestern states.

Until this spring, the nearest case to North Carolina was in northern Illinois. In April, New York wildlife officials reported CWD in two captive herds and among wild deer nearby.

“The discovery of CWD on the Eastern Seaboard is very alarming,” said Evin Stanford, deer biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Commission. “Although we could never say with 100 percent confidence that we were free from the disease, we were somewhat comforted by the distance between us and the nearest CWD-positive area. Now, our comfort level has been somewhat reduced.”

CWD is a progressive neurological disease that causes weight loss, neurological problems and, ultimately, death in deer and elk. There is no known cure or vaccination. Although no scientific evidence has indicated that CWD can be transmitted to humans, public health officials caution that hunters and others who come into contact with deer or elk should take general safety precautions.

To protect North Carolina’s deer and elk, both captive and wild, the Wildlife Commission has restricted imports of the animals from other states and has limited the movement of captive deer and elk within the state. The Commission has also aggressively tested deer and elk across the state — nearly 1,500 in 2003 alone.

Because of the resources involved in such large-scale testing, the Commission will repeat the effort only every five years or so. In the meantime, the agency will concentrate its testing on animals that have been observed with CWD symptoms, which include:

  • thin, emaciated appearance
  • neurological signs such as staggering or poor
  • coordination
  • exaggerated wide posture
  • low carriage of head and ears
  • poor coat
  • excessive salivation.

Anyone who sees a deer exhibiting those symptoms should call the Wildlife Commission’s Division of Wildlife Management at (919) 733-7291. For more information on CWD, including tips on safe handling of deer and deer parts, see the CWD page, or www.cwd-info.org.