Chronic Wasting Disease confirmed in 21 deer in northwestern Virginia in 2019

Published: Feb. 27, 2020 at 12:54 PM EST
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Virginia wildlife officials say 21 new cases of chronic wasting disease (CWD) were confirmed in white-tailed deer in northwest Virginia throughout 2019.

According to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, 13 deer tested positive in Frederick County, 5 in Shenandoah County, 2 in Clarke County, and 1 in Fauquier County.

No CWD cases were confirmed in central Virginia, where it was


Over 1,100 deer from Frederick, Clarke, Warren, and Shenandoah counties were tested for the disease during the 2019 hunting season, and over 1,600 samples were collected in central Virginia.

In the past 10 years, 88 CWD-positive deer have been confirmed, with 74 in Frederick County, 10 in Shenandoah County, 2 in Clarke, 1 in Culpeper, and 1 in Fauquier counties.

Chronic Wasting Disease is a slow, progressive neurological disease that causes deer to look frail and ultimately results in death of all infected animals — its mortality rate is 100%.

The disease causing agent is spread through urine, feces, and saliva of infected animals. Symptoms may not appear for over 15 months and include staggering, abnormal posture, lowered head, drooling, confusion, and marked weight loss.

For hunters, it's hard to tell when field dressing the deer.

Wildlife veterinarians say the deer has to have specific testing on portions of the brain and/or lymph nodes.

Dr. Peach Van Wick, with the Wildlife Center of Virginia, said there is no hard evidence that the disease could or could not affect humans, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends to always get deer meat tested before consumption.

"The current recommendation from the CDC ... is that if you know a deer that you have harvested has CWD or was tested positive," Van Wick said, "then don't consume that meat."

This spring and summer, the DGIF will work with members of the CWD Response Team they formed a few years ago to determine the most appropriate measures moving forward.

The VDGIF said they are grateful for the assistance of deer hunters for their cooperation in sample collections, as well as for the cooperation of road-kill pickup contractors, commercial deer processors, and taxidermists.

In addition to the sampling effort in the Disease Management Areas, DGIF collaborated with dozens of taxidermists to enhance CWD surveillance throughout the remainder of Virginia. This partnership proved effective in acquiring over 2,000 samples from across the state.

According to the VDGIF, there are several actions that hunters can take to help reduce the spread of CWD, including:

1. Don’t feed deer. Feeding deer congregates them together and speeds up the transmission of disease from sick to healthy deer.

2. Check DGIF’s list of carcass-restriction zones if hunting out-of-state and determine if the deer, elk, or moose is allowed to be transported into Virginia legally as a whole carcass. Only certain parts of deer, elk, or moose harvested in areas included in DGIF’s list of carcass-restriction zones can be legally transported into Virginia. The infectious agent that causes CWD accumulates in the brain and spinal cord, therefore it is extremely important that these parts of a harvested deer, elk, or moose are not brought back into Virginia.

3. Do not transport whole deer carcasses out of the CWD Containment Area (Clarke, Frederick, Shenandoah, and Warren counties).

4. Do not use lures or attractants that contain natural deer urine. The use of natural deer urine products is illegal.

5. Do not leave leftover parts of deer carcasses on the landscape, especially the brain and spinal cord. Leftover parts of a deer should be buried or double-bagged and placed in a trash receptacle for home pick-up or discarded at a landfill or compactor site.

If you see a deer that seems to be showing signs of CWD, you can call the DGIF helpline at 1-855-571-9003 with accurate location information.

You can learn more about the disease