Ten chronic wasting disease-afflicted deer reported for 2008 in Kansas

The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks reports a total of
10 chronic wasting disease (CWD) occurrences from among almost
2,700 deer tissue samples collected and submitted for lab analysis
by KDWP in recent months.

Eight of the CWD-positive deer tissue samples had been reported
earlier by KDWP, and two additional “positives” were recently
confirmed in the final batch of samples submitted for lab analysis,
according to Shane Hesting, KDWP’s wildlife disease
coordinator.

A total of 2,693 tissue samples were collected by the department
throughout the 2008 hunting seasons. Included in that total of
samples collected were nine elk; none of the elk samples tested
positive for CWD. KDWP has conducted annual sampling of deer and
elk since 1996 to help track the occurrence of CWD.

“Emphasis was placed on obtaining more samples in northwest
Kansas to assess the prevalence and distribution of the disease,
since that area is adjacent to past CWD occurrences in neighboring
states and is the only area of Kansas where it has been
documented,” Hesting said.

“About 20 percent of the total samples collected in Kansas were
from that 12-county area,” he added. “Therefore, the increased
number of detections may be the result of more intensive sampling
combined with the natural spread of the disease.”

All ten deer confirmed as CWD-positive were white-tailed deer
taken by hunters in northwest Kansas. Of the CWD-positive deer
confirmed by KDWP, five came from Decatur County, two from Sheridan
County, two from Rawlins County, and one from Cheyenne County.

CWD had been documented previously in Kansas. During the 2007
season, three Decatur County whitetails were confirmed as
CWD-positive. The first detection in a wild Kansas deer was a
white-tailed doe killed by a Kansas hunter in 2005 in Cheyenne
County. Prior to that, CWD was detected in a captive elk in Harper
County in 2001.

Although research is underway, there is currently no vaccine or
other biological method of preventing CWD. The only tool is to
prevent the spread of CWD to new areas, because once the infective
particle (an abnormal prion) is deposited into the environment —
either through an infected carcass or from a live animal — it may
exist for a decade or more, capable of infecting a healthy
deer.

Despite the recent occurrences, the likelihood of finding CWD in
a wild deer harvested in Kansas is small. That small likelihood
decreases even more the farther from northwestern Kansas the deer
lived. In recent years, numerous cases of CWD have been documented
in neighboring areas of Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming.

CWD is a fatal illness to infected deer and elk. Humans have
never been known to contract the disease. CWD is a member of the
group of diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies
(TSEs). Other diseases in this group include scrapie in sheep and
goats, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or mad cow disease) in
cattle, and Cruetzfeldt-Jacob disease in people. None of the ten
CWD-positive deer from the 2008 seasons exhibited any outward
symptoms of CWD that are common in the terminal stages of the
disease.

CWD is a progressive, fatal disease that results in small holes
developing in the brain, giving it a sponge-like appearance under
the microscope. Decreased brain function causes the animal to
display neurological symptoms such as depression, droopy head,
staggering, loss of appetite, and a lack of response to man. The
continuing deterioration of the brain leads to other symptoms such
as weight loss, drooling, and excessive thirst. Caution is advised
because of unknown factors associated with prion diseases, but no
human health risks have been discovered where CWD occurs.

The symptoms of CWD include loss of body weight, stumbling,
holding the head at an odd angle, circling, non-responsiveness to
people, and pneumonia. Any sick deer or elk should be reported it
to the nearest KDWP office or the Emporia Research Office,
620-342-0658.

Hunters can help protect the health of the Kansas deer herd by
taking the following steps to avoid accidentally introducing CWD to
a new area in Kansas:

do not transport deer carcasses far from the area where the deer
lived, especially from areas where CWD has been detected, such as
northwestern Kansas; and

if a carcass is transported, the hunter should make sure that
carcass waste is not dumped into the environment where local deer
or elk can come into contact with it. Carcass waste can be disposed
of by double-bagging it and taking it to a landfill.

The Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance maintains an online
clearinghouse of information about the disease. More information is
also available on the KDWP website. Contact Bob Mathews at KDWP’s
Pratt office (620/672-5911) for more information.

Story courtesy of Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks

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