So far this hunting season, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has collected 200 deer tissue specimens to be tested for chronic wasting disease. The disease is fatal to deer but has not turned up in Florida, and authorities are taking steps to make sure it doesn’t.

The disease does not pose a known threat to human health. According to the Florida Department of Health’s Web site: “At this time, there are no data to support a causal relationship between chronic wasting disease (CWD) of deer and elk and human prion infection (Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease or CJD).” CJD is the human equivalent of CWD.

Since chronic wasting disease (CWD) recently spread from western states to Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois, Florida officials have launched an intensive effort to prevent the disease from erupting here and to detect it early if it does.

So far, the FWC has tested six suspicious deer for CWD. Results are pending for five of them; the other one tested negative. The 200 specimens collected from apparently healthy hunter-killed deer on public and private lands are to be tested as soon as lab equipment is in place, possibly next month. Wildlife biologists plan to test a total of 500 hunter-killed deer this hunting season.

“Biologists will not seize healthy deer from hunters, but may ask permission to remove brain or other tissues for examination,” FWC assistant director of the Division of Wildlife, Tim Breault, said.

Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has imposed tough restrictions on importation of live deer from other states to prevent CWD from spreading to captive deer herds. That department also is equipping its Kissimmee lab to test for signs of CWD in deer.

Although medical authorities have not found a link between CWD and human health issues, and no known cases of the disease have occurred in Florida, the FWC recommends hunters use reasonable caution when handling deer. Specifically, hunters should:

not handle or consume any animal that is acting abnormally or appears sick notify the FWC if they see or harvest an extremely thin or sickly deer wear latex or rubber gloves when field dressing deer bone out the meat without sawing through bones and avoid cutting through the brain or spinal chord minimize handling of brain and spinal tissues wash hands and instruments thoroughly after field dressing is completed avoid consuming brains, spinal chords, eyes, spleens, tonsils and lymph nodes of harvested deer, and cut away all fatty tissues if any deer tests positive for CWD, avoid consuming meat from that animal process each deer individually, and do not combine the meat The FWC recently mailed out post cards to 54,000 licensed hunting households, advising hunters of what to do if they see a skinny-looking deer. Hunters can report such deer by calling (866) CWD-WATCH toll-free. Wildlife biologists will respond to calls and will collect deer tissues if necessary for testing. Tests must take place within 48 hours of an animal’s death to yield reliable results.

More information about CWD is available from the following link on the FWC’s Web site: www.floridaconservation.org/cwd. The site also offers links to human and wildlife health agencies with more in-depth information about the disease.