Sampling Finds Additional CWD Cases

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Nine additional cases of chronic wasting disease (CWD) have been detected in northern Illinois – including one in DeKalb County – as a result of testing conducted on samples collected from hunter-harvested deer during the first firearm season this fall, Department of Natural Resources Director Joel Brunsvold announced today.

The new cases bring to 30 the total number of confirmed cases of the disease found in the state since November 2002 when the first positive was discovered.

“An intensive surveillance effort has been underway this season and last,” Director Brunsvold said. “Hunter cooperation has been terrific and has allowed us to effectively track CWD in Illinois. In addition, I want to commend the staff members at the Department of Agriculture who are conducted the testing. Their professionalism has been a great asset during this effort.”

One of the nine new cases of CWD was detected in a deer harvested by a hunter near Kirkland in northwest DeKalb County. The other recent cases of CWD were found in deer taken by hunters in Boone and Winnebago counties.

Of the 30 cases of CWD confirmed in Illinois to date, six were from eastern Winnebago County, 21 from Boone County, two from McHenry County, and the other is the recent DeKalb County case. Before the 2003 hunting season, the distribution of the disease appeared to be confined to an area northeast of Rockford and one in McHenry County, but the recent finds indicate that isolated cases are turning up over a slightly wider area.

“The current distribution of chronic wasting disease in Illinois consists primarily of a core area northeast of Rockford in which the disease is most common, with scattered cases occurring infrequently at distances up to about 20 miles around it,” said IDNR Forest Wildlife Program manager Paul Shelton. “In addition, we had the two cases near Woodstock in McHenry County in 2002, but have yet to find any others so far this year.”

Shelton said that it is unknown whether these new findings are the result of recent movements of infected deer, or if the disease has been present in those outlying locations for some time at very low levels which are difficult to identify through surveillance.

The IDNR this fall collected tissue samples from more than 4,000 deer taken by hunters in 36 counties during the seven-day firearm season. A few hundred samples also were collected from deer harvested by archery hunters in northern Illinois in October and November. All samples collected are submitted for testing at Illinois Department of Agriculture labs in Centralia and Galesburg. Samples taken from northern Illinois counties during the second season, and from most southern Illinois counties during the first season, have yet to be completed.

Based on preliminary figures, deer hunters in Illinois harvested a record total of nearly 104,000 deer during the seven-day firearm hunting season Nov. 21-23 and Dec. 4-7. Archery hunting continues statewide through Jan. 15.

“We want to again thank hunters in Illinois for their support of our CWD surveillance effort, which is working well in identifying areas where chronic wasting disease is present,” said Shelton. “Knowing where the disease is and how many cases we have is essential in developing our strategy for battling CWD in the Illinois deer herd.”

While testing of samples collected this fall continues, IDNR biologists this winter will be involved in additional CWD management and surveillance. In parts of those counties from which CWD has been identified, trained IDNR and USDA sharpshooters will be used to collect additional samples and to reduce the size of localized deer populations known to be infected. This approach is used to remove potentially sick animals from the landscape and hinder the spread or establishment of the disease, while providing significant disease information on a more local scale.

While not contagious to humans or livestock, CWD is known to spread from animal to animal among deer and elk. The disease affects the brains of infected animals, causing them to become emaciated, display abnormal behavior, lose coordination and eventually die.

Director Brunsvold noted the DNR has taken a number of steps to reduce the deer population throughout Illinois and provide additional hunting opportunity to sportsmen. Thousands of additional permits were made available around the state, for both the regular firearm season and the muzzleloader season. Hunters also were allowed to use handguns during the firearm season, a change welcomed by Illinois sportsmen.

In addition, Governor Rod Blagojevich this year signed legislation (HB2918) giving the Deparment of Natural Resources another tool to combat CWD or other diseases found in the deer herd. The new law allows DNR to set up special harvest periods, if deemed necessary, to reduce the deer population as part of a disease-control strategy. In keeping with IDNR’s adaptive approach to CWD management, biologists will examine all information gathered this fall and winter before determining whether to implement any special seasons or making recommendations about possible changes for next year.

Illinois expanded its chronic wasting disease surveillance effort in 2002 following the discovery of CWD in neighboring Wisconsin. For updated information about chronic wasting disease, check the IDNR web site at: http://dnr.state.il.us/cwd/index.htm. A web application that allows participating hunters to check the status of test results for deer sampled during the firearm deer season is available at that site.