OLYMPIA – Washington deer and elk remain free of chronic wasting disease (CWD), recently completed tests on tissue samples from nearly 1,000 animals indicate.

The tests were conducted primarily on animals harvested during 2002 fall hunts. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) plans to continue monitoring by collecting another 1,000 samples from deer and elk this year.

The state began targeted surveillance for CWD in 1995 and initiated more intensive tests of hunter-killed animals two years ago when the disease began appearing in deer and elk in other states outside its previously known range. To date, the fatal illness of deer and elk has been detected in a dozen other states and Canada.

A total of 1,557 tissue samples from Washington deer and elk have been tested for CWD in the past two years, with 898 samples taken last year and 659 collected in 2001.

“For 2003, our strategy will be to focus our sampling effort in areas that have been previously under-represented in terms of geography and proportion of deer harvest,” said Kristin Mansfield, a WDFW wildlife veterinarian who is directing the state’s CWD monitoring.

Currently, CWD tests require the removal of a section of brain-stem tissue from a recently killed animal. Because live animal tests are not yet feasible, most samples are collected at hunter check stations or from meat lockers that process game, with some additional samples taken from road-killed animals.

“Hunter cooperation will be vital to our continued CWD monitoring efforts,” said Mansfield.

The 2002 samples included 113 from elk, 290 from blacktail deer, 296 from mule deer, 188 from whitetail deer, 11 from deer of unrecorded species, and. An additional 117 samples collected in 2002 and 127 samples from 2001 could not be accurately tested, generally because the tissue was too decomposed at the time of collection, Mansfield said.

Chronic wasting disease, a progressive, fatal illness of the central nervous system that affects deer and elk, has been detected in animals in 12 other states (Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, and Utah) and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Chronic wasting disease was first identified in captive deer in Colorado in 1967. The mode of transmission is unknown at this time. To date, there have been no confirmed cases of CWD being transmitted to humans or passed to domestic animals or livestock.

More information on the disease and monitoring efforts here is available at www.wa.gov/wdfw/wlm/cwd/index.htm on the WDFW website.

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