With the nine-day gun deer hunt now under way in Wisconsin, it’s expected half a million hunters will take to the woods. If recent trends continue, nearly 100,000 of these hunters will take a deer.  Several state agencies, including the Department of Natural Resources and the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, have geared up to make the hunt safe.  With the growing threat of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), experts are urging hunters to have their deer tested for the infectious neurological disease.  Veterinarian Keith Poulsen, diagnostic and case outreach coordinator for the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, says a CWD test is easy and free.

“When they’re registering that deer they can take them to a collection station,” he advises. “It’s all paid for so it’s a free test and you’ll get your results back. Our turnaround time, we’re really trying to get it within three to four days. It really depends on how many samples that we get.”

The Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, which does all the testing, handled 6,600 tissue samples last year. CWD has been found in 24 Wisconsin counties. While there is no evidence to date showing that CWD can be or has been transmitted to humans, some preliminary studies in the past few months, which have not yet been published, suggest that CWD can spread to other primates.  Poulsen says this shows more testing needs to be done, which is why he says hunters should have their deer tested for the disease.

“The great majority of experts believe that the transmission risk to humans is very, very low,” he states. “But it’s not zero. So that’s the reason why we’re saying we should know more before we make a definitive statement about that.”

CWD is one of a family of diseases caused by a prion, a nearly indestructible infectious agent that is not fully understood. Poulsen says hunters should not be reluctant to have their deer tested.

“If you’re a deer hunter and you’ve grown up with it, it’s part of your culture, it’s part of the state, it’s part of your identity, plus you use it as a food source, you probably want to know more about this disease so you can continue to hunt in the future,” he states. “You want to make sure that you have a vibrant, healthy whitetail deer population.”

Most of the 24 counties in which CWD has been found in the deer herd are in the southern half of the state.