Wildlife officials are becoming increasingly worried about chronic wasting disease (CWD), a/k/a "mad deer disease," which has been detected in wild and captive deer and elk in 12 states (see "What About Mad Deer Disease?," Features, July/August 2001). First detected in 1967 in Colorado, the fatal neurological disease causes weight loss, stumbling and tremors. CWD has spread slowly through the West and Midwest. About one percent of free-range deer and five percent of farmed deer are infected in Colorado and Wyoming.
Scientists have found no conclusive evidence linking CWD in deer and elk to illness in human beings, but they cannot yet rule it out, especially since three relatively young people who regularly ate venison have died from the similar Creutzfeld-Jakob diesase. CWD has now spread east to Oneida County, New York, where recent tests of 420 wild deer turned up five with the illness. As a result, hunters in New York’s Oneida and Madison Counties will be required to pass state checkpoints.