Richmond, VA – Samples collected from 1,114 Virginia deer during 2002 have all tested negative for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) according to representatives of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF). The Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study in cooperation with the school of veterinary medicine at the University of Georgia ran the tests.

CWD is a progressive neurological (brain and nervous system) disease found in deer and elk. The disease ultimately results in death. Species naturally affected include elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, and black-tailed deer. CWD belongs to a family of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE’s).

To date, the disease has only been found in deer and elk in North America. CWD is known to occur in free-ranging deer or elk in Colorado, Illinois, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. CWD also has been diagnosed in game ranches in Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Saskatchewan and Alberta, Canada.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have conducted investigations for any relationships between CWD and human neurological disease. These organizations state that there currently is no scientific evidence that CWD can infect humans. However, public health officials recommend that human exposure to the CWD agent be avoided as they continue to evaluate the potential risk, if any.

Starting last fall, the Department took the following management actions relative to CWD. First, importation of live deer and elk into Virginia was prohibited and all captive deer and elk in Virginia are currently being monitored for CWD.

Second, three types of CWD surveillance were initiated. The first was random active testing of 1,017 road-killed and/or hunter-killed deer statewide. Every county in the Commonwealth was tested, and all hunters who had harvested deer and/or elk heads tested are in the process of being notified of the negative results. The second was testing of approximately 93 suspect CWD “target” animals identified by the public and deer hunters. Elk taken by deer hunters in southwest Virginia also were considered “target” animals, and CWD samples were collected from 9 of 10 elk killed in 2002.

Lastly, mortalities of four captive cervids were tested. CWD was not detected in any of the 1,114 samples tested.

According to VDGIF Wildlife Division Director Bob Duncan, “Cooperation and support from Virginia’s deer hunting community and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in the Department’s CWD surveillance program was outstanding and the Department owes a debt of gratitude to all the hunters who let us have their deer heads for testing purposes. At the time we collected the deer heads, we hoped we would have the test results back within a month to six weeks, but with over 20,000 samples collected across the Southeast this fall, the laboratory at the University of Georgia was swamped. We have intentionally waited until every result was back before notifying a single hunter.”

According to Department staff a final decision has not been made yet on what level of CWD testing will be conducted in 2003, but the Department would like to advise all hunters and the general public to continue to help in the identification of and testing of “target” animals. CWD “target” animals are defined as adult (18 months of age or older) deer or elk that are emaciated and show some combination of signs, including abnormal behavior, increased salivation, tremors, stumbling, un-coordination, difficulty swallowing, excessive thirst, and excessive urination. Symptoms can be similar to those of Hemorrhagic Disease, which has been found in deer in Virginia and typically appears in late summer and early fall.

What should you do if you suspect you see a CWD target deer? First, do not attempt to contact, disturb, kill, or remove the animal. You should accurately document the location of the animal and immediately contact the Department at 1-804-367-1000 or the field office listed below that is nearest to you. Arrangements will be made to investigate the report. Field offices are located at Ashland (804) 752-5502, Blacksburg (540) 951-7923, Farmville (434) 392-9645, Fredericksburg (540) 899-4169, Lynchburg (434) 525-7522, Marion (276) 783-4860, Staunton (540) 248-9360, and Williamsburg (757) 253-7072.