CWD Confirmed in Deer

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State Department of Natural Resources biologists and conservation wardens, in cooperation with two other state agencies, will soon implement a number of steps aimed at identifying the scope and origin of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in Wisconsin.

The agency was alerted last Thursday, Feb. 28, by the National Veterinary Services Laboratory, Ames, IA, that CWD was detected from three deer registered in Mt. Horeb during the 2001 nine-day gun season.

CWD is a neurologic disease of deer and elk. It belongs to the family of diseases known as transmissable spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) or prion diseases. It attacks the brains of infected deer and elk, causing the animals to become emaciated, display abnormal behavior, lose bodily functions and die.

All three samples were taken from deer killed in Deer Management Unit 70A (Dane and Iowa Counties) and, more specifically, within several miles of each other in the Dane County Town of Vermont.

The Mt. Horeb station registered 1,486 deer during the various gun and bow seasons last fall, and DNR biologists believe in all likelihood more area deer may be infected with CWD.

Altogether, DNR staff sampled 82 deer for CWD at Mt. Horeb from area DMUs and 445 deer statewide during the 2001 deer hunting season. The other sampling locations were at Black River Falls, Crivitz, Fence, Spooner and Viroqua. Officials are still waiting final test results from deer sampled around the state.

Among the actions DNR is taking in the next week are:

  • Establishing a CWD "surveillance area" in the vicinity of Vermont Township.
  • Putting a deer sampling mechanism in place following Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) protocol that will help define the extent to which CWD has spread in the area.
  • Contacting all hunters who submitted deer tissue samples at Mt. Horeb over the gun deer season?s opening weekend to learn where they shot their deer.
  • Holding a public meeting in the Mt. Horeb area in the near future after state agencies have firmed up their response plans and can answer specific questions.
  • Flying aerial surveys to identify deer concentration areas.
  • Collecting heads from vehicle-killed deer in the area as another source of tissue samples.
  • Developing a website with up-to-date information on CWD in Wisconsin.

State officials note that CWD is no threat to cattle or sheep and that DNR, DATCP and the Dep. of Health and Family Services (DHFS) are working jointly to respond to this disease problem.

Informational material is being developed for hunters, deer and elk farmers and the public.

CWD has been known to occur in deer and elk in North America for decades. It occurs in wild deer and elk primarily in northeastern Colorado and adjacent parts of Wyoming and Nebraska. CWD has also been found on elk farms in Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Saskatchewan.

In spite of ongoing surveillance for similar disease syndromes in humans, there has never been an instance of people contracting a prion disease from butchering or eating meat from CWD-infected animals.

"Certainly, this is reassuring," noted DHFS epidemiologist Jim Kazmierczak, "but no one can say with absolute certainty that CWD will never cause human disease. What is clear is that if there is a risk of human disease, it must be exceedingly small."

A World Health Organization (WHO) panel of experts reviewed all the available information on CWD and concluded that there is no scientific evidence that CWD can infect humans. Yet, WHO also says no part of a deer or elk with evidence of CWD should be eaten by people or animals.

"Ultimately, whether or not you continue to eat venison harvested in the area of these positive CWD findings is up to you and your family," added Dr. Kazmierczak.


Tom Hauge, DNR, Wildlife Management (608) 266-2193

Kerry Beheler, DNR, Wildlife Health - (608) 267-6751

Julie Langenberg, DNR, Wildlife Health - (608) 266-3143

Jim Kazmierczak, DHFS, Epidemiologist - (608) 267-7321

Robert Ehlenfeldt, DATCP, Animal Disease Control - (608) 224-4880