The Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is seeking hunters’ cooperation this fall as it continues to check deer and elk for chronic wasting disease (CWD) during the fall hunting season.
This year’s effort will focus on the far eastern side of the state where there is a high density of deer and elk, said Kristin Mansfield, WDFW wildlife veterinarian.
“No cases of CWD have been found in Washington since we began testing for it in 1995 – and we want to keep it that way,” Mansfield said. “Hunters can help by stopping at voluntary check stations so their game can be sampled.”
The disease can be spread among deer and elk, but there are no cases of people, domestic animals or livestock becoming infected, Mansfield said. She noted that WDFW has tested 3,868 samples since monitoring began, including 1,615 taken last year. All have tested negative.
Most of those samples were collected at hunter check stations and tested in a laboratory using brain stem or lymph node tissue taken from dead animals. This year, WDFW will set up drop-off stations the week after the season opens and offer hunters a chance to win prizes for turning in deer and elk heads.
Hunters can also help by reporting deer and elk that are acting sick or behaving strangely, Mansfield said. Infected animals lose weight and coordination, become lethargic, hang their heads, droop their ears, and salivate more than normal.
CWD causes animals’ brain tissue to deteriorate similar to mad cow disease and is always fatal. Since CWD was first identified in Colorado in 1967, it has been found in 12 other states and two Canadian provinces.
Although no CWD-infected deer or elk have been found in Washington and the disease hasn’t been shown to spread to humans, hunters can take extra precautions by not eating the brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, pancreas or lymph nodes of deer and elk. Mansfield also recommended that, as a general rule, hunters not harvest animals that appear ill, and practice good hygiene by wearing rubber gloves while field dressing game and thoroughly washing their hands and equipment after processing carcasses.