University of Minnesota Offers Deer CWD Testing
More than 150 veterinarians at 98 clinics have agreed to collect brain stem samples for Chronic Wasting Disease testing from deer harvested during this fall's firearms season. (Check the Chronic wasting disease information page for a list of vet clinics where hunters can take deer for CWD testing.)
Samples will be sent to the University of Minnesota's Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in St. Paul for testing. Hunters will be notified of results through the mail. The test will be available to any hunter who wants a deer tested for a fee determined by local veterinarians and the diagnostic lab.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources plans to test between 5,000 and 6,000 hunter-harvested deer during the firearms deer season as part of its ongoing surveillance program. The demand for tests is expected to be much higher, however, according to Ed Boggess, assistant director of the DNR Wildlife Division.
"We're very happy that we've been able to work with the University of Minnesota to help provide this service to Minnesota hunters who would like to get their deer tested," Boggess said. "We know this will give some hunters reassurance. However, based on the best scientific information available, both state and federal health officials continue to believe CWD is not transmittable to people through eating venison, or by any other means."
The University of Minnesota's Diagnostic Laboratory will test only samples submitted by approved veterinarians. Samples sent by individual hunters will not be accepted. The list of approved veterinarians is available on the DNR Web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us. Hunters are responsible for taking their deer to the veterinarians for sample collection.
If the University of Minnesota lab finds CWD, the Minnesota DNR will be immediately notified in order to investigate and respond. Information on deer that do not test positive will also be available to the DNR through an electronic database. Hunters who wish to have their deer tested through the University of Minnesota should be sure to register their deer before bringing it to the veterinarian for sampling. The test may require the head of the deer to be removed. State law requires hunters to obtain a possession tag at a registration station before the head is removed. Hunters need to be sure to keep the possession tag with the carcass, not leave it with the veterinarian.
The test detects prions--an abnormal protein that scientists believe causes CWD. Because CWD incubates slowly, the tests cannot be used to tell whether an animal has been recently infected.
"If an animal tests positive, we know with certainty that is has CWD," Boggess said. "However, just because a deer tests negative doesn't mean that it hasn't been recently infected."
So far CWD has been detected in one captive elk in Minnesota. The disease has not been detected in the state's wild deer herd. In a separate effort, DNR officials plan to sample between 5,000 and 6,000 hunter-harvested deer at select registration stations throughout the state to help determine if the disease is in the wild herd.
Federal and state health officials recommend that hunters follow the following steps with deer processed for consumption:
- do not consume meat from any deer looks or acts ill
- do not eat the brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils or lymph nodes of any deer
- remove meat from bones rather than sawing through bones
- field dress the animal properly
- minimize handling of brain or spinal tissues, wear sturdy rubber or latex gloves when field dressing, and wash hands and instruments after field dressing is complete.
Animals infected with CWD typically show one or more of the following clinical signs, which may be readily apparent:
- starvation and dehydration
- excessive salivation
- stumbling, weakness, loss of coordination or tremors
- drooping head or ears
- excessively rough or dull coat
- loss of fear of humans.
Hunters who notice a deer that is showing any of the above signs should not shoot the deer. Instead, they should report the sighting to their local DNR wildlife office. DNR personnel will attempt to locate the animal and have it tested for CWD.