FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) is offering hunters recommendations after a deer legally harvested in Fairfax County tested positive for a deadly, progressive neurological disease.
The deer was found to have chronic wasting disease (CWD), which officials describe as an incurable disease found in deer, elk and moose that is slow-acting and ultimately results in the death of the animal.
The disease-causing agent, called a prion, is spread through the urine, feces, and saliva of infected animals. Infected animals may not develop any symptoms of CWD for several months to over a year after exposure. Officials say clinical signs of CWD may be staggering, abnormal posture, lowered head, drooling, confusion, and marked weight loss.
This is the first time in Fairfax County that an animal has tested positive for the disease.
The deer was tested after being taken to a taxidermist in October 2022. The DWR got a sample shortly thereafter as part of the department’s proactive statewide CWD surveillance efforts.
Officials claim at the time of harvest, the deer showed no outward signs of the disease and the deer appeared to be in good condition.
Since this is the first time CWD has been detected in Fairfax County, a county bordering Disease Management Area 2 (DMAR2), the DWR conducted an extensive forensic investigation to confirm the harvest location of this deer.
Officials say no regulatory changes will be made until the end of the 2022-23 deer hunting season.
Until then, here are what experts strongly recommend:
- Carcass transport: Do not transport whole deer carcasses or any parts containing brain or spinal cord tissue out of Fairfax County to a non-DMA county (please see dwr.virginia.gov/wildlife/diseases/cwd/transporting-carcasses-into-within-and-out-of-dma2/ for information on current DMA2 deer carcass transport restrictions).
- Carcass disposal: Double-bag deer parts and place directly in a landfill or a trash receptacle to be picked up with the regular trash collection.
As a reminder, it is illegal to feed deer at any time of the year in Fairfax County.
- Hunters in Fairfax County may choose to get deer tested for CWD at no cost by bringing the head to a CWD drop site in DMA2, which includes neighboring Loudoun County. Sites in DMA2 can be found here: dwr.virginia.gov/wp-content/uploads/media/DMA2-Refrigerators-2022.pdf. DWR will identify additional drop sites in Fairfax County ahead of the 2023-2024 hunting season.
- Hunters are encouraged to continue hunting deer. Hunter-harvested deer are essential to tracking CWD. Hunting regulations and season dates can be found here: dwr.virginia.gov/hunting/regulations/.
Since the 2019-20 season, more than 750 deer have been tested for CWD in Fairfax County, with this incident being the only positive detection to date in the county.
The DWR has been monitoring CWD prevalence and spread in northwestern Virginia for more than 13 years. DMA3 in southern Virginia was added after a positive detection in Montgomery County in 2020. Across the rest of the Commonwealth, the DWR has been conducting CWD surveillance for the past five years with the assistance of cooperating taxidermists. From 2009 to the end of the 2021-2022 hunting season, 134 positive cases of CWD have been detected in Virginia.
Officials claim there is no evidence that CWD can be transmitted to humans, pets or livestock. However, there is still a lot that is unknown about the potential transmissions to humans.
Although officials say the CWD diagnostic tests are not food-safety tests, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that hunters test all deer harvested from known CWD-positive areas and not consume meat from animals that test positive.
Regulations pertaining to CWD, maps of affected states and information about CWD can be found on the DWR website.
If you would like to report a sick deer, please call Virginia's Wildlife Helpline at 1-855-571-9003.
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