RALEIGH, N.C. (Sept. 22, 2004) – The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission announced that tests for chronic wasting disease or “CWD” in the state’s deer population did not detect this fatal and contagious disease.

Staff with the Wildlife Commission collected deer tissue samples across the state during the 2003-2004 hunting season and sent 1,464 samples to the University of Georgia in Athens to be tested for CWD, a neurological disease of deer, elk and related animals. Researchers at UGA’s Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study did not detect CWD in any of the samples from North Carolina.

“With bow season under way and muzzleloader and gun season not far off, it’s news that deer hunters should be relieved to hear,” said Evin Stanford, deer biologist with the Commission.

The Commission began testing for CWD in 1999, when three symptomatic animals were tested. After that, the Commission expanded surveillance efforts and tested 169 deer from 2000-2002. Last year, with the help of many sportsmen and other state agencies, that number jumped to 1,464, as the Commission initiated its statewide CWD surveillance project.

“When you’re sampling wild animals you can never be sure,” Stanford said. “But this statewide surveillance project gives us much greater confidence than previous years that North Carolina’s deer are free of CWD.”

Like the Commission, other state fish and game agencies across the Southeast last year tested for CWD within their borders. Twelve southeastern states — among them, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina — tested samples from 13,237 deer. The tests did not detect CWD.

“We’re going to continue monitoring, but it’s important for the public to know that there are no known cases of CWD in North Carolina or in neighboring states,” Stanford said. “Also, we don’t know of any human contracting a CWD-like disease from deer. But for optimal safety, the Commission recommends people do not consume deer brains, eyeballs, spinal cords, spleens and lymph nodes, and they should avoid eating meat from a deer that looks sick.”

Stanford said that the Commission will scale back CWD surveillance this fall, focusing on collecting samples from select areas across the state.

“If CWD were to come to North Carolina, it most likely would be transmitted through an imported captive deer or elk,” Stanford said. “In fact, that appears to have happened already in other states and provinces in Canada where wild deer seem to have contracted CWD from infected captive animals that were moved. That’s why the Commission will continue collecting and testing samples near captive herds in the future.”

CWD is a “wasting” syndrome characterized by microscopic empty spaces in the brain. Afflicted animals exhibit unusual behaviors including:

  • listlessness,
  • lack of coordination,
  • frequent lowering of the head,
  • blank facial expressions,
  • repetitive walking in set patterns,
  • drooling and grinding of teeth,
  • drinking lots of water and increased urination
  • and extreme low weight.

Animals may not show symptoms for five years or more, but once they do contract the disease, death is certain. No treatment or cure exists. Direct, animal-to-animal contact is a means of transmission, but evidence also suggests that contaminated environments present risks. Humans are not known to contract CWD.

For more information or to report a symptomatic animal, contact the Commission’s Wildlife Management Division, 919-733-7291. See the chronic wasting disease information page for more information