ROMNEY, W.Va. — Four deer killed in Jefferson County have tested positive for chronic wasting disease. Although it’s the first detection of the cervid virus in Jefferson County, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources officials said it was a matter of “when” and not “if” the county would eventually have positive cases.

“It was going to be more or less inevitable that Jefferson County was going to go positive given that it’s surrounded on all sides by positive counties in West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland,” said Ethan Barton, Wildlife Disease Specialist for the West Virginia DNR.

The four deer were killed between October 2023 and February 2024. According to Barton, one was collected as a hunter harvested deer, another was a road kill and the other two were collected by other means as part of the ongoing surveillance work to monitor the spread of CWD in the area.

The virus was first detected in West Virginia in a road killed animal discovered in 2005 near the community of Slanesville in Hampshire County. It has slowly moved into contiguous counties over the course of time.

“That makes six positive counties. In chronological order it would have been Hampshire then Hardy, followed by Morgan, Mineral, and Berkeley in the same year and now Jefferson. They are all contiguous over here in the Eastern Panhandle.” Barton explained.

So far Pendleton and Grant Counties have not had positive cases Barton said they still have Grant County under the same restrictions as the rest of the CWD containment zone because of the proximity and the ongoing surveillance continues.

The four positive cases out of Jefferson County came from testing 124 deer since last fall. Barton said their findings show prevalence of CWD in Jefferson County at around three-percent. He said the low percentage is an indication they likely found the infection outbreak rather early. Unfortunately, history has proven, the prevalence doesn’t stay down once it is manifested in an area.

“Right now based on our best estimates we’re getting close to about 1 in 3 in Hampshire County. That’s about a 30 to 35 percent prevalence. In our long term monitoring area around Slanesville where we’ve been conducting monitoring since CWD was detected, that number looks a lot closer to 64-percent, which is astonishing,” he said.

Barton said all four of the positive deer in Jefferson County showed no physical symptoms of CWD, which is typical. It isn’t until the final stages of the cycle when the true ravage of the disease can be observed. The clinical conditions include the deer becoming heavily emaciated, hair falling out, difficulty standing, and no fear or instincts about potential threats.

The discovery of positives in Jefferson County will have little impact on restrictions. Since the county was already consider at high risk due to proximity, emergency restrictions on feeding and baiting of deer were already in place.

“Those practices can concentrate a lot of deer in one area in an unnatural level of interaction that may facilitate rapid spread. There’s been some pretty doggone good research come out in the last few years that has demonstrated there are a lot more deer-to-deer interactions at bait piles and feed piles than there would naturally be on the landscape. That sort of backs up the logic,” said Barton.

There are also emergency rules in place which prohibit transport of the brain and spinal cord out of the containment zone. Those parts of the deer anatomy are where the prions which spread the disease reside.

Story by WVMetroNews Outdoors Correspondent Chris Lawrence