It’s a growing disease here in Virginia: not for people, but a serious threat to deer.
“It’s caused by a preon, which is just a misfolded protein that ends up attacking the nervous system of an animal. So their brain and spinal cord, and it is a fatal disease,” said Peach Van Wick, with the Wildlife Center of Virginia.
It’s called Chronic Wasting Disease, and it has been detected in 37 deer from Frederick County and three in Shenandoah County since 2009.
Van Wick said it’s easily spread through animals.
“It can actually hang around in the environment. And potentially be passed through contaminated soil or contaminated water,” said Van Wick. “So it’s really a passage of the disease between animals.”
It’s a slow, progressive neurological disease that ultimately results in death of all infected animals. Its mortality rate is 100 percent.
And wildlife officials want deer hunters like Brodi Hummel to be aware.
“It makes you pay attention more. And you know, if you see it, you’d like to report it and get the situation taken care of, if possible,” said Hummel.
The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) said they’re partnering with 60 taxidermists across the state to start a disease surveillance effort throughout the Commonwealth.
While there are many things hunters can do to reduce the spread, wildlife experts say the best thing is to know the signs of infected deer.
“Seeing a deer with its head down or circling. Kind of overall, abnormal mentation can be a clue a deer might be infected,” Van Wick said.
Symptoms include staggering, abnormal posture, lowered head, drooling, confusion, and marked weight loss.
While there’s no evidence the disease can spread to humans, livestock, or pets, it’s strongly advised not to eat meat from any infected animal.
It all makes hunters like Hummel a little more cautious.
“I’m going to keep hitting the trail, and hopefully everything goes good. And good luck to everybody out there doing the same,” added Hummel.
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.