The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) has begun its active surveillance for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). The Department has been sampling wild and captive deer for CWD since 2002. However, in 2005, the discovery of CWD in deer from Hampshire County, West Virginia, approximately 10 miles from the Virginia border, resulted in the partial activation of the CWD Response Plan that called for increased surveillance in the area of Virginia closest to the outbreak. A CWD Active Surveillance Area that includes parts of Shenandoah, Frederick, Loudoun, and Clarke counties was established, and last year 559 samples from road-killed and hunter-harvested white-tailed deer from this area were tested. CWD has not been detected in over 2000 samples collected since 2002 in Virginia.
For the 2006 season, VDGIF plans to collect the same number of samples from the same CWD Active Surveillance Area (see map). The Department will be working cooperatively with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to collect road-killed deer. Nelson Lafon, Deer Project Coordinator said, “The cooperation we have received from VDOT staff has been wonderful. We could not achieve our sampling goals without their assistance.” In addition, VDGIF wildlife biologists will be collecting some samples from deer harvested by hunters in the CWD Active Surveillance Area to supplement road-killed samples. Hunter participation in the Department’s CWD surveillance efforts will enable the Department to more quickly and more effectively monitor the area for the presence of CWD.
If you plan to hunt in the Active Surveillance Area, and you wish to contribute to the Department’s CWD surveillance effort, there are several self service stations where deer heads can be dropped off. These stations are located at the Virginia Department of Forestry in Woodstock, the Winchester-Frederick Conservation Club just north of Gainesboro, and the North Mountain Volunteer Fire Department near Tom’s Market west of Winchester. A cooler/refrigerator and supply kit are provided at each station. Directions and detailed instructions on how to submit a deer head can be found on the Department’s Web site http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/cwd.
In addition, deer heads can be submitted at one of the following meat processing plants: Blue Ridge Meats in Sterling; Mark’s Butcher Shop, Hamilton; and Pry’s Custom Butchering in Knoxville, Maryland. John Rohm, VDGIF district biologist in Northern Virginia added, “The local meat processors were vital to the Department’s surveillance efforts in Loudoun County last year. We greatly appreciate them volunteering their services again and allowing the Department to meet its sampling objectives especially in Loudoun County.” VDGIF has also initiated some statewide sampling of road-killed deer that will result in an additional 150-250 samples to be tested. Samples will be collected from every county in Virginia.
Testing is for CWD surveillance only. No testing technique can assure 100 percent accuracy for CWD diagnosis, and “not detected” test results do not exclude the possibility of low levels of the causative agent being present in deer. Hunters will be able to check the CWD test results for their submitted deer heads on the Department’s Web site. Results should be available within 60 working days after collection. There is a possibility that not all deer heads will be submitted for testing, and that some submitted samples will not have valid test results returned. If this occurs, an explanation for why there are no test results for a submitted deer head will be provided on the Web site.
In addition, an important part of the surveillance strategy is the testing of deer that have clinical signs consistent with the disease. CWD infected animals usually display abnormal behavior such as staggering or standing with very poor posture. Animals may have an exaggerated wide posture or carry the head and ears lowered, and may drool. Infected animals become emaciated (thus the name wasting disease) and appear in very poor body condition. If you see an animal with CWD symptoms, do not attempt to contact, disturb, kill, or remove the animal. You should accurately document the location of the animal and immediately contact the VDGIF at 1-804-367-1258 or the office listed below that is nearest to you. Arrangements will be made to investigate the report. Offices are located at Blacksburg (540) 961-8304, Farmville (434) 392-9645, Fredericksburg (540) 899-4169, Lynchburg (434) 525-7522, Marion (276) 783-4860, Verona (540) 248-9360, and Williamsburg (804) 843-5962.
CWD is a progressive neurological (brain and nervous system) disease found in deer and elk. The disease ultimately results in death. Species known to be susceptible include elk, moose, mule deer, white-tailed deer, and black-tailed deer. CWD belongs to a family of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. There is no current scientific evidence that CWD has infected humans. However, it is recommend that human exposure to the CWD agent be avoided, and the Department recommends that hunters take simple precautions such as not consuming any deer that appear abnormal or sick, wearing gloves when field dressing, and boning out the meat. In addition, it is recommended that hunters avoid consuming meat and tissues from known CWD-infected animals.
VDGIF Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. Jonathan Sleeman added, “Concerns over CWD should not keep hunters from enjoying the deer hunting season.” Persons who have questions or need additional information about CWD should visit the Department’s Web site at http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/cwd.