With the fall 2004 deer season just about to begin, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) is requesting that Virginia’s more than 260,000 deer hunters and the general public be on the lookout for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) “suspects.”

CWD “suspect” animals are defined as deer or elk 18 months of age or older that are emaciated and show some combination of signs, including abnormal behavior, increased salivation, tremors, stumbling, un-coordination, difficulty swallowing, excessive thirst, and excessive urination. A simple definition is an adult deer or elk that looks as though it is starving and appears to have neurological disorders.

The good news is that CWD has not been found in, or anywhere near, Virginia. Samples collected from over 1,200 Virginia deer over the past three years have all tested negative for CWD. Deer have been sampled from every county in the Commonwealth. Additionally, over 25,000 CWD samples collected from deer across the Southeast to date have also all been negative for CWD. Nevertheless, the Department and all Virginians must continue to be vigilant and work to keep CWD out of Virginia.

CWD is a progressive fatal disease of the brain and nervous system in deer and elk. The disease ultimately results in death. There is no known cure for CWD, and there is no live test for the disease.

What should a deer hunter or person do if they see a deer that shows CWD symptoms? First, do not attempt to contact, disturb, kill, or remove the animal. Accurately document the location of the animal and immediately contact the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries at 1-804-367-1258. Arrangements will be made to investigate the report.

Starting in fall 2002, the Department took several proactive management actions relative to CWD. To help prevent the introduction of CWD in Virginia, changes in regulations and permit conditions were imposed to ban the importation of live deer and elk into the Commonwealth; to require a VDGIF permit for the possession of any cervid; and to ban the intrastate movement of cervids.

Because of the link between the spread of CWD and captive herds, the Department also strengthened captive deer requirements related to animal marking, record keeping, facility inspections, and mortality reporting. By new permit conditions, all captive cervid deaths of animals six months old and older must be tested for CWD.

The Department initiated three types of CWD surveillance. The first was random testing of over 1,000 road-killed and/or hunter-killed deer statewide in fall 2002. Every county in the Commonwealth was tested. The second was testing of CWD “suspect” or “target” animals identified by the public and deer hunters. This suspect surveillance is ongoing. Lastly, mortalities of all captive cervids are being tested. During 2002, the cost for CWD surveillance efforts in Virginia was over $250,000, and VDGIF personnel documented nearly 7,500 hours of staff time spent on CWD surveillance activities.

Persons wanting more information on CWD are advised to visit the following web sites: Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (www.dgif.virginia.gov/hunting/chronic_wasting_disease.html) and the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance (www.cwd-info.org).