Current 2002 CWD Results

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To determine if Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), still occurs in South Dakota's free-roaming deer or elk populations, the Department of Game, Fish and Parks is continuing to collect and test tissue samples of deer and elk from a few hunting units where CWD is felt to most likely exist. Since 1997, a total of 1,693 deer and elk have been tested, and the only CWD-positive animal found was a white-tailed deer in Fall River County last fall.

To date, the department has received excellent cooperation from hunters in submitting deer and elk heads from the selected survey areas.

"We have sent a letter to hunters in selected surveillance units asking them for voluntary submission of deer/elk heads to the Department of Game, Fish and Parks for CWD testing," said Game Management Specialist Ron Fowler. "It is early in the seasons to expect much, but we are pleased with the number of samples received thus far." Tissue samples are being sent to the University of Wyoming Diagnostic Laboratory for actual testing. Test results may not be known for several months.

Collections so far this fall include:

  • 445 Elk (166 total elk samples were submitted during last year's hunting seasons)
  • 33 mule deer
  • 115 white-tailed deer

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal brain disease of deer and elk that is believed to be caused by an abnormal protein called a prion. Animals infected with CWD show progressive loss of weight and body condition, behavioral changes, excessive salivation, increased drinking and urination, depression, loss of muscle control and eventual death. Chronic wasting disease is always fatal for the afflicted animal. The disease can not be diagnosed by observation of physical symptoms because many big game diseases affect animals in similar ways. The origin and transmission of this disease among deer and elk is not well understood. Public health officials have found no scientific evidence that CWD can be naturally transmitted to humans, or to animals other than deer and elk.

For current information on chronic wasting disease, see the Game, Fish and Parks website at