The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has not found any evidence of chronic wasting disease (CWD) after extensive testing of the state’s white-tailed deer population.

The FWC tested 582 free-ranging deer during the past year and more than 4,000 deer during the past seven years, with no CWD-positive results.

“While we can never say that Florida is entirely free of the disease without testing every deer, this sample size gives us confidence that if CWD is present in Florida, it is at low levels,” Dr. Mark Cunningham, FWC’s wildlife veterinarian, said. “However, even low numbers of CWD-positive deer would be cause for concern, so we plan to continue testing for the foreseeable future.”

CWD is a contagious neurological disease that has been found in captive and wild mule deer, white-tailed deer, moose and Rocky Mountain elk within several midwestern and western states. The disease causes degeneration of the brains of infected animals, resulting in emaciation, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions and death.

Thus far, no southeastern state, including Florida, has been hit by the deer disease.

To reduce the chances of CWD entering Florida, the state prohibits importing live deer unless they come from a herd that has been certified CWD-free for five or more years and carcasses of any species of deer, elk or moose from 15 states and two Canadian provinces where CWD has been detected.

Chronic wasting disease has been detected in New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois, New York, West Virginia, Michigan and Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada. Visit the CWD Alliance Web site at www.cwd-info.org for the most up-to-date CWD reporting.

“Early detection is the key to limiting the spread of the disease, if such an outbreak should occur in Florida,” Cunningham said.

Once again, this hunting season, the FWC is turning to hunters and members of the public for assistance in helping monitor the state’s deer herd for CWD.

“We’re asking hunters to report any sightings of sick or emaciated deer, or deer dead of unknown causes,” Cunningham said. “If you see such a deer, call toll-free 866-CWD-WATCH (293-9282). Please do not handle the deer. Wildlife biologists will respond, and if necessary, collect deer tissue for testing. It’s important to contact us as soon as possible, because sample collection must take place within 48 hours of a deer’s death to yield reliable results.”

CWD WATCH is part of an aggressive monitoring program to ensure CWD is not already in Florida and the disease does not spread into this state.

There is no evidence that CWD poses a risk for humans, however, public health officials recommend avoiding direct contact with any sick-looking deer or one that has died from unknown causes.

More information about CWD surveillance in Florida is available at MyFWC.com/CWD. The Web site also offers links to wildlife and health agencies with more in-depth information about the disease.