RICHMOND, VA – In October 2002, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) initiated a surveillance and monitoring program for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in free-ranging white-tailed deer. “Nearly 75 percent of the samples have been tested and CWD has not been detected in any of them. We find this very encouraging. Having met with wildlife officials from across the country on this very issue, I am extremely pleased to get this news and to make this announcement.” said VDGIF Director Bill Woodfin.
In Virginia’s monitoring program, VDGIF game wardens and biologists collected 1,047 white-tailed deer samples from hunters across the state. In addition, tissue samples from hunter-harvested elk were collected. Tissue samples were shipped to the Southeast Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study lab located in the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia. The internationally known lab is also processing samples from other southeastern states.
“We truly appreciate the support we’ve received from hunters who contributed biological samples for testing. Their cooperation was essential in providing enough samples to obtain a high degree of statistical reliability in the results,” said Wildlife Division Director Bob Duncan. Wildlife officials hope to have the results of the remaining samples by the end of the month. After all the test results are in, the department will begin the process of sending written notification of the specific test results to each hunter who contributed a sample for testing.
While there has never been any indication of CWD in Virginia, the staff and Board of Game and Inland Fisheries have been working to prevent CWD exposure to the state’s deer herd. Restrictions on possession and transportation of deer and elk help reduce the opportunity for CWD to gain entry into Virginia. The Board of Game and Inland Fisheries, which has opposed the reintroduction of elk in the Commonwealth, took another step in protecting the state’s deer herd by adopting an emergency regulation at their October 2002 meeting that prohibits the importation of deer and elk in Virginia. That regulation went into effect on November 24, 2002.
CWD is a neurological disease of deer and elk, characterized by loss of body control and ultimately death. It is classified as a TSE or transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, and is similar to “Mad Cow Disease” in cattle and Scrapie in sheep. Concern over CWD has increased nationally as the disease has moved east from the western states. Cases are relatively rare, but the consequences can be devastating. Because there is no cure, and because the disease is fatal, the disease is best controlled by removing affected animals to prevent the spread within a herd.
Wildlife biologists have been aware of CWD since 1967 when a mule deer wasting syndrome was first recognized at the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s research facilities. Wildlife professionals first noted its appearance in free-ranging deer and elk in Colorado and Wyoming in the mid-1980s. Concerns have escalated since 1997 with it’s appearance in farmed elk herds in South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Montana and two Canadian provinces, and it’s appearance in free-ranging deer herds in Illinois, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and New Mexico in 2001 and 2002.
Recent eradication efforts in Wisconsin resulted in millions of dollars being spent on dispatching exposed animals and properly disposing of their remains. In addition, Wisconsin’s economy is experiencing a devastating loss of millions of dollars in revenue as hunting licenses and equipment sales there have plummeted because of the discovery of CWD in that state. In Virginia, where white-tailed deer represent a significantly beneficial economic and social resource, introduction of CWD could be disastrous. Deer hunting alone generates more than $184 million in expenditures in the state, according to the 2001 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation produced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Bill Woodfin concluded, “We’re confident about the test results so far, and we have every reason to believe that when we have 100 percent of the test results in hand Virginia’s deer herd will be given a clean bill of health.”
For more information about Chronic Wasting Disease, visit the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ Web site at www.dgif.state.va.us.
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History of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)
1967 A mule deer wasting syndrome was recognized at the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s research facilities in Fort Collins
1978 The syndrome was linked to the group of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies
Mid-1980s CWD was detected in free-ranging deer and elk in contiguous portions of northeastern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming (endemic area)
Since 1997 CWD has also been diagnosed in at least 16 farmed elk herds in a number of states, including South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Montana.
Spring 2001 CWD was found in free-ranging deer in the southwestern corner of Nebraska.
Spring 2002 CWD was found in free-ranging deer in the southwestern corner of Wisconsin
Fall 2002 CWD was found in free-ranging deer in Illinois
Fall 2002 CWD was found in free-ranging deer and elk in Colorado and South Dakota
January 2003 CWD was found in farmed elk in Minnesota
Current Distribution of Chronic Wasting Disease in North America
In the wild Colorado Illinois Nebraska New Mexico South Dakota Wisconsin Wyoming Saskatchewan, Canada
In captive elk herds Colorado Kansas Minnesota Montana Nebraska Oklahoma South Dakota Saskatchewan, Canada Alberta, Canada