On March 30, 2005 the Iowa DNR was informed by the National Veterinary Services Lab in Ames that none of the 4,579 Iowa whitetail deer tested for chronic wasting disease (CWD) by the lab during the 2004-05 season showed any signs of the disease. Samples were collected from all 99 counties in Iowa; however the majority – roughly 3,500 – was taken in the seven Mississippi River border counties stretching from Allamakee County south to Scott County. Emphasis was placed on that area due to the prevalence and proximity of CWD in Wisconsin and Illinois. Samples were collected voluntarily from hunter-harvested deer at check stations and meat lockers. The DNR intends to check a similar number of deer during the 2005-06 season as it did this year.
“What we are doing is an important part of the national CWD surveillance and monitoring effort,” said DNR deer biologist Willie Suchy. “It is needed to give us a good picture of what is going on within the deer population.”
The Iowa DNR has tested white-tailed deer for CWD since 2000; however efforts were intensified in 2002 when CWD was discovered in nearby counties in Wisconsin and Illinois. Since then, the Iowa DNR has tested more than 12,300 deer; none have tested positive. The DNR does have a CWD management plan in place should the disease be discovered in the state.
CWD is a neurological disease affecting deer and elk. It is caused by an abnormal protein – known as a prion – that essentially eats holes in the brains of infected animals. In the latter stages of the disease, animals appear disoriented, lethargic and emaciated. They often exhibit excessive thirst, salivation, urination and drooping head and ears. It is always fatal to the infected animal. Anyone seeing a deer exhibiting these symptoms should immediately contact the Iowa DNR.
CWD was first discovered in northeastern Colorado in 1967. Since then, it has also been documented in wild deer or elk in Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Saskatchewan, Canada. It has also been found in captive deer or elk in those states and the Canadian province – excluding Illinois and New Mexico — as well as Kansas, Minnesota, Montana and Alberta, Canada.
Hunter participation was completely voluntary and the DNR thanks all hunters that assisted with the CWD surveillance by providing deer heads for testing.
Note: 2004 testing of hunter-harvested deer in Wisconsin found more CWD positive deer in the vicinity of earlier identified CWD endemic area. The Iowa DNR is still concerned about CWD and will continue monitoring and testing efforts in 2005 with the assistance of sportsmen.
It should be pointed out that this testing for the CWD agent is not a food safety test. At this writing, it is not believed that humans can contract CWD by eating venison; however, the National Institute of Health recommends that hunters do not eat the brain, eyeballs, or spinal cord of deer, and that hunters wear protective gloves while field dressing game.
Iowa has adopted a ban on the transport of any live deer into the state unless the deer originated from a herd certified to be free of CWD and bovine tuberculosis (BT). Also, hunters cannot transport into Iowa the whole carcass of any cervid (i.e., deer or elk) taken from a CWD endemic area within any state or province. Only the boned-out meat, the cape, and antlers attached to a clean skull plate from which all brain tissue has been removed are legal to transport into Iowa.