Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a transmissible disease found in mule deer, whitetailed deer, elk and moose. To date, this condition has been found mainly in cervids (members of the deer family). It was first recognized in 1967 in mule deer at a wildlife research facility in northern Colorado. Most cases of CWD (which is progressive and always fatal) occur in adult animals.
The leading clinical indication of CWD in infected animals is weight loss over a period of time. Other abnormal behavioral signs include decreased interaction with other animals, listlessness, lowering of the head, walking in a set pattern, and a body odor similar to decaying meat. Most deer with CWD will show increased drinking and urination.
At the present time, it is not fully understood how CWD is spread. However, research has found that it can be spread both directly (animal-to-animal contact) and indirectly (soil or other surface to animal). It is believed that the most common mode of transmission is from an infected animal's saliva, feces and other body secretions.
There is no factual evidence that CWD affects humans, but public health officials recommend that people do not eat the meat from known infected animals or animals that appear to be sick. People should also avoid direct contact with the brain, spinal cord, eyes, lymph nodes, spleen and tonsils of infected animals. This is where the infectious agents to this disease accumulate.
CWD has been detected in 62 deer in West Virginia since 2005, all located in Hampshire County. This is out of almost 10,000 deer tested since then. In 2009, CWD was present in 16 hunter-harvested deer taken in Hampshire County. Three were taken south of U.S. 50, which is out of the CWD containment area (i.e., that portion of Hampshire County located north of U. S. 50). There is also a report of one positively tested white-tailed deer bagged in Frederick County, Va., less than one mile from the Virginia/West Virginia state line. It is also interesting to note this is the first positive test sample out of nearly 5,000 deer tested in Virginia. All these findings represent a serious threat to the deer herds in eastern United States.
While most of the game biologists at the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources believe this disease will not cause an immediate widespread die-off of deer, it could have a long, devastating effect if allowed to spread. Individuals who have done in-depth research with CWD believe this disease will be a 30-to-50-year epidemic. All management actions will be based on findings of immediate and future surveillance.
Hunters and all concerned with this problem would do well to fully cooperate with the WVDNR. If you kill or see a deer that is obviously sick, contact the DNR at once. Do not feed the deer, even with the deep snows we are now having. This will only concentrate the animals, increasing the likelihood of spreading CWD or any other disease present in the deer herd.
If you are going to deer hunt in Hampshire this year, follow the state's rules on removing the animals from this location. Bring back only boned-out meet and thoroughly cleaned skull plates and antlers. Dispose of the non-edible portions of your deer in a responsible manner. Be ready to cooperate with the DNR's request for information and samples needed for CWD testing. Last, if you see live deer or elk being transported in a truck or trailer, call the WVDNR nearest you as soon as possible. This practice is illegal without a DNR special permit. The deer herd in our state and adjoining states is just too valuable to ignore with this potential disaster in the making.