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Researchers hope to better understand how to reduce spread of chronic wasting disease in deer

Meghan Marchetti.
Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources

Chronic wasting disease is fatal to deer, and it continues to spread in Virginia. Researchers are trying to learn why, and they’re being aided by hunters.

In the wild, predators can help slow the spread of diseases by targeting sick animals. Similarly, hunters can help prevent Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) from getting worse by continuing to hunt, said Luis Escobar, an assistant professor of Fish and Wildlife Conservation at Virginia Tech.

“We told the hunters, the problem is going to be bigger, so we need their participation,” Escobar said.

Recently, Virginia Hound Heritage, a hunting organization in Virginia, donated funds to help support more research at Virginia Tech. Escobar and his team will be working to better identify how CWD spreads, and what hunters can do that will help. For example, past research has shown hunters should try not to transport deer carcasses across state lines.

CWD often spreads from deer to deer by sharing water, or when animals are close to each other.

“This is very difficult to eradicate,” Escobar said. “We know that it can stay in the environment for years.” He said most of the cases his team is studying occur in areas that share a border with West Virginia, a state that had known cases of CWD several years before Virginia.

CWD causes brain damage, weight loss and disorientation in deer before they die. “There are going to be more roadkill events if we have more chronic wasting disease,” Escobar said.

Hunters are encouraged to test deer meat they get from an area with a known outbreak. The Centers for Disease Control recommends not eating any meat that tests positive.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Updated: August 11, 2023 at 1:28 PM EDT
Editor's Note: Radio IQ is a service of Virginia Tech.

Roxy Todd is Radio IQ's New River Valley Bureau Chief.