Nevada CWD Testing During Fall Seasons

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Since the mid-1980s when it was first detected in free-ranging deer and elk, Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has been found in a growing number of the lower 48 states and two Canadian provinces. The closest of those states to Nevada is Utah yet CWD remains undetected in the Silver State and the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) and the Nevada Department of Agriculture (NDA) hope it stays that way.

CWD is a contagious neurological disease affecting deer, elk and moose. It is characterized by spongy deterioration of the brains in infected animals. Common outward symptoms of the disease are emaciation, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions and death.

For the past 10 years, the NDOW and NDA have been collecting brain tissue samples from hunter-harvested deer and elk. These samples are collected by volunteers at commercial meat packing operations where deer and elk are processed as well at select NDOW offices. In the Las Vegas area alone, NDOW collects from 150 to 200 samples each year. "Of all the animals we have tested to date, none has tested positive for CWD," said Dr. Mark Atkinson, NDOW veterinarian.

Most of the animals sampled in the Las Vegas area are harvested in the eastern portion of Nevada, the area closest to the CWD infected area of the U.S. With the data obtained through this sampling process, NDOW can take steps necessary to control the spread of CWD should it be discovered in Nevada.

"Currently, there is no evidence that CWD poses a risk for humans; however, public health officials recommend that human exposure to the CWD infectious agent be avoided as they continue to evaluate any potential health risk," notes the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance website.

In the meantime, hunters are urged to not shoot, handle or consume any animal that is acting abnormally or appears to be sick. Anyone who does harvest or see an animal that appears sick is urged to call NDOW. Hunters should wear latex or rubber gloves when field dressing deer or elk. It is also recommended that hunters bone out the meat and avoid sawing through bone or cutting through the brain or spinal cord. Thoroughly washing hands and knives after field dressing is complete is highly recommended.

Hunters who choose to have their game processed at a commercial facility are encouraged to ask that their meat be processed individually and not with meat from someone else's animal. There is no telling how well it was taken care of in the field or what its condition was.

This year NDOW hopes to collect at least 250 samples in the Las Vegas area and is seeking help from volunteers. CWD sampling will take place at Mull's Meat's. In addition, Leah Swanekamp, CWD surveillance coordinator for NDOW, is organizing volunteer sampling efforts at the NDOW offices in Reno, Elko, Ely, Panaca and Winnemucca. Anyone who is interested in helping with sample collection should call Chris Pietrafeso, (702) 486-5127.

The Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) protects, restores and manages fish and wildlife, promotes fishing, hunting, and boating safety. NDOW's wildlife and habitat conservation efforts are primarily funded by sportsmen's license and conservation fees and a federal surcharge on hunting and fishing gear. Support wildlife and habitat conservation in Nevada by purchasing a hunting, fishing, or combination license. For more information, visit