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Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)

What is CWD? CWD is a naturally occurring disease of the brain and nervous system in deer and elk. It attacks the brain of deer and elk, producing small lesions that eventually result in death. CWD was first recognized in the late 1960s in a herd of captive mule deer in Colorado. Although the disease was discovered over 30 years ago, it recently has received much media attention because of its discovery in free-ranging deer in southern Wisconsin and western Colorado. Only four species, mule deer, white-tailed deer, moose and elk, appear to be naturally susceptible to CWD. Domestic livestock and humans are not known to be susceptible to CWD.

Where is CWD found? Prior to 2005, the disease had only been found in North America west of Illinois. In 2005, CWD was documented in captive and free-ranging herds in New York and in free-ranging herds in West Virginia. Since then, it has also been discovered in several other states. CWD has not been found in Connecticut or New England. States and Canadian provinces where CWD has been confirmed include: Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Montana, South Dakota, Kansas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Nebraska, Oklahoma, New York, West Virginia, Michigan, Virginia, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota, Alberta, and Saskatchewan.

What is CT doing about CWD? Connecticut, along with many other states, banned the importation of live cervids (species in the deer/elk family) across state lines. In 2005, Connecticut passed an emergency regulation banning the importation of whole carcasses or parts thereof of any deer or elk from wild or captive herds from other states or Canadian Provinces where Chronic Wasting Disease has been confirmed. The ban on importation did not apply to meat that was de-boned, cleaned skullcaps, hides or taxidermy mounts. The regulation became permanent in 2007.

Since 2003, the DEEP Wildlife Division has been testing hunter- and vehicle-killed deer as part of a nationwide CWD monitoring and surveillance program. To date, no evidence of CWD in Connecticut’s deer herd has been detected.

How do I know if an animal has CWD? As the disease advances, infected animals begin displaying abnormal behavior, such as staggering or standing with very poor posture. Infected animals become emaciated and appear to be in very poor health. The only efficient method to diagnose CWD is to dispatch the animal and examine the brain tissue for lesions. Anyone observing a deer exhibiting symptoms of CWD should notify the DEEP Wildlife Division (860-424-3011) or the DEP’s 24-hour TIP hotline (1-800-842-HELP). If the animal is dispatched, the head should be kept intact so that a brain sample can be collected for testing.

Should hunters be concerned? No known link exists between CWD and humans, however, health officials advise hunters not to consume meat from animals known to be infected with CWD and recommend boning out meat. As usual, hunters should continue to employ normal precautions when field dressing deer, such as wearing rubber gloves. Concerns about CWD should not keep hunters from participating in Connecticut’s deer seasons.

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