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Chronic wasting disease testing in deer down in Montana

Chronic wasting disease sample collections lower than previous years
Posted at 8:49 AM, Nov 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-17 10:50:20-05

BILLINGS - Deer hunting season is in full swing in Montana, and the number of positive chronic wasting disease (CWD) cases is so far much lower than in recent years.

State wildlife officials believe the drop is due to fewer hunters heading to testing sites.

CWD was first detected in Montana in 2017 with no known cure and oftentimes unable to easily detect by sight.

CWD can stay dormant for months, if not years before symptoms are noticed, which ultimately cause the animal's brain to degenerate.

It is caused by abnormal proteins called prions.

“An infectious, always fatal disease that affects deer, elk and moose,” said Emmalee Buss with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP).

Buss — the CWD logistics coordinator for the Billings region — says it is critical to study and test game to learn how prevalent the disease is.

“Not only is this important for the hunters to know, it's also really important for us to know. Because it’s helping us do that surveillance and see where chronic wasting disease has been spreading,” she said.

Getting tested is a simple task that comes at no cost to hunters.

However, sample collection numbers are dropping.

On Nov. 10, 2022, there had been 2,646 samples collected. In 2021, at the same time, the number sat at 3,098.

Robert Walker was at the FWP site Wednesday getting his mule deer tested for CWD, something he does every year.

“I have a niece and nephew that will be eating the meat. Along with my girlfriend and her son. Don't want to, you know, hurt them in any way,” Walker said.

Although CWD has never been reported to be transferred to humans, Robbie Seykora with FWP strongly urges against eating the meat if you have a positive result come back.

“If an animal does test positive, you can bring the entire animal back to FWP, and we can reissue you a new tag,” Seykora said.

This season, the Billings region has seen five positive results for CWD and 79 total for Montana.

“So, if those animals are shedding those prions, any animal that comes along, makes contact with that animal, is at a higher risk of contracting CWD,” Seykora said.

FWP also urges hunters to properly dispose of a carcass to help prevent the spread of the disease.