Chronic Wasting Disease affects the spinal and brain tissues of wild deer and elk in 24 U.S. states and was first identified in a captive Colorado deer herd in the 1960s.
There has never been a verified case of the disease passing to humans, but health and wildlife officials are vigilant because the illness is spreading and is similar to Mad Cow Disease which did pass from domesticated animals to humans through the consumption of meat.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends avoiding the consumption of known-contaminated venison, and testing deer that are harvested from areas where the illness has been found.
However, in our region, only Virginia offers testing.
In more than 10 years of monitoring, Chronic Wasting Disease infected deer have been found in parts of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.
- Maryland: 11 infected deer discovered since 2010 out of 9000 tested.
- Virginia: 22 infected deer discovered since 2005 out of more than 10,000 tested.
- West Virginia: 183 infected deer detected since 2005
Only specific counties are affected.
- Maryland counties: Allegany, and parts of Garrett and Washington. The most concentrated area of infections has been in and around the Green Ridge State Forest
- Virginia counties: Frederick and Shenandoah
- West Virginia counties: Hampshire and Hardy.
The states are reacting to the problem by creating special deer management areas in the zones that are affected with restrictions on handling and transporting deer to prevent the spread of CWD to other areas.
Wildlife officials are concerned the disease could affect deer populations in the future, although that has not been a problem so far.
Wildlife officials want to educate hunters on CWD but do not want to discourage hunting in affected areas.
In fact, hunting is being encouraged because an overpopulation of deer may contribute to the spread of the disease.
A CDC survey found that 20% of Americans eat wild-harvested meat. Venison is low in fat and hormone-free.
In Maryland alone, more than 85,000 deer are harvested by hunters annually. Intentional waste of wild game is illegal in Maryland.
During the 2017-18 hunting season so far, more than 25,000 pounds of meat has been donated to homeless shelters and food banks.