The fight to keep Chronic Wasting Disease from spreading into Oregon's deer and elk herds will now include Western Oregon, which will join the rest of the state in testing for this always fatal neurological disease that is spreading elsewhere.
Though CWD has never been detected in Oregon deer or elk, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is expanding its CWD testing to ensure that, if it does surface here, biologists can snuff it out as quickly as possible.
That likely would mean killing of deer where the incurable disease was found, either in the wild or a captive deer or elk ranch, as happened when New York successfully kept CWD from spreading out of a captive cervid ranch, ODFW spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy said.
"If we do early detection, we might be able to do what New York did," Dennehy said. "We want to catch it early so we have a chance to stop it from spreading."
The disease is caused by a protein prion that damages the brain of an infected animal, causing progressive loss of body condition. The prions that cause CWD can last a long time in the environment, infecting new animals for decades.
CWD is in several states and Canadian provinces, with a single case in Wyoming the closest to Oregon, records show.
For years agency biologists have tested hunter-killed deer and elk in Eastern Oregon at check stations like those set up this weekend. Tests can only be done on dead animals because it involves collecting an animal’s lymph nodes or brain stem, and hunters also should bring in a tooth to age the animal.
Western Oregon hunters now can get their Roosevelt elk or black-tailed deer tested, as well. Rogue Valley hunters should call the ODFW office in White City at 541-826-8774 to set up an appointment, Dennehy said.
Hunters only need to bring in the head, and it is best if it is kept cold for the short sampling session, Dennehy said.
South Coast hunters should make an appointment at ODFW's Gold Beach office at 541-247-7605.
ODFW biologists are testing road-killed deer and elk, and animals that exhibit signs of wasting or neurological disorder are also tested.
Anyone who sees a sick deer or elk should report it to the ODFW Wildlife Health Lab at 1-866-968-2600 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hunters who shoot animals that exhibit such signs should not eat the meat, according to ODFW.
Although CWD has not been shown to sicken people, the Centers for Disease Control advises hunters not to eat meat from animals infected with CWD. It is also a good idea to wear latex or rubber gloves when field dressing an animal and to wash hands and instruments thoroughly afterwards.