I heard there was a meeting in Culpeper about diseased deer and possible human health risks to hunting. What is this all about? Are there future meetings planned?

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries confirmed Chronic Wasting Disease for the first time in Culpeper County in February 2019. As a result, DGIF has created a “disease management area” to minimize the spread of the disease.

In Culpeper, Orange, and Madison counties, deer feeding is now prohibited all year. There are also new regulations on hunters, voluntary and mandatory CWD testing policies, and prohibitions on transport of certain deer tissues outside of the disease management areas. These and other CWD management strategies will be discussed at a public meeting on Oct. 9 from 7 to 9 p.m. at Eastern View High School.

CWD is caused by a prion, an abnormal protein that accumulates in the brain. An example of a more familiar prion is “Mad Cow Disease.” Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease, a rare condition in people, is caused by another prion.

According to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, “To date, there have been no reported cases of CWD infection in people. However, some animal studies suggest CWD poses a risk to certain types of non-human primates, like monkeys, that eat meat from CWD-infected animals or come in contact with brain or body fluids from infected deer or elk. These studies raise concerns that there may also be a risk to people. Since 1997, the World Health Organization has recommended that it is important to keep the agents of all known prion diseases from entering the human food chain.”

Part of the concern over CWD is that prions are not destroyed by ordinary cooking or freezing methods.

The CDC has issued the following safety recommendations:

“To be as safe as possible and decrease their potential risk of exposure to CWD, hunters should take the following steps when hunting in areas with CWD:

• Do not shoot, handle or eat meat from deer and elk that look sick or are acting strangely or are found dead (road-kill).

• When field-dressing a deer:

• Wear latex or rubber gloves when dressing the animal or handling the meat.

• Minimize how much you handle the organs of the animal, particularly the brain or spinal cord tissues.

• Do not use household knives or other kitchen utensils for field dressing.

• Check state wildlife and public health guidance to see whether testing of animals is recommended or required. Recommendations vary by state, but information about testing is available from many state wildlife agencies.

• Strongly consider having the deer or elk tested for CWD before you eat the meat.

• If you have your deer or elk commercially processed, consider asking that your animal be processed individually to avoid mixing meat from multiple animals.

• If your animal tests positive for CWD, do not eat meat from that animal.”

According to the DGIF, “It is important to note that the currently available CWD diagnostic tests are not food safety tests and the intent of any testing is not to certify a deer as ‘safe for consumption.’ Test results will be either ‘positive’ or ‘no prions detected.’ In the early stages of infection, prions may not be at levels detectable by the test. A ‘no prions detected’ test result does not guarantee that an individual animal is not infected with CWD but it does make it considerably less likely and may reduce risk of exposure.”

Detailed information on Chronic Wasting Disease, including important information for people who choose to hunt deer in the local disease management area, can be found at dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/diseases/cwd. Additional information on Chronic Wasting Disease can be found at cdc.gov/prions/cwd.

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