LITTLE ROCK – A white-tailed deer in Ponca recently tested positive for chronic wasting disease, according to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. The disease is fatal to deer and elk.

The positive CWD test from a deer comes on the heels of an elk near Pruitt, about 12 miles east of Ponca, that was confirmed to have the disease Feb. 23. Both areas are in northern Newton County.

The AGFC took tissue samples from the 2½-year-old female deer, which was found dead. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa, confirmed the test today.

The 2½-year-old female elk was killed by a hunter Oct. 6 on the Buffalo National River near Pruitt during elk hunting season. It was the first animal in Arkansas confirmed to have CWD. The disease was confirmed on Feb. 23. The elk was tested by the same labs that confirmed CWD in the deer from Ponca.

To determine the prevalence and distribution of the disease among deer, the AGFC will begin taking samples Monday within a capsule-shaped area ranging from 5 miles west of Ponca to 5 miles east of Pruitt, and 5 miles across.

“We need to sample 300 deer to determine the prevalence and the spatial distribution of CWD in the population with 95 percent confidence,” said Dick Baxter, an assistant chief in the Wildlife Management Division.

Enough free-ranging deer have to be tested before there’s a strong statistical chance of detecting CWD in 1 percent of the herd. This is a common method to estimate CWD prevalence in deer populations. As results are analyzed, wildlife biologists will adjust the strategy.

“The test area will expand as positive (CWD) tests warrant,” said Cory Gray, AGFC deer program coordinator.

Wildlife biologists will not use the same tactics with the elk herd.

“We’re not going to determine the prevalence of CWD in elk at this point, because it would require a large sample of the relatively small elk herd to be valid statistically,” Baxter said. “We want to target sick elk throughout the elk range to find the spatial distribution.”

The elk strategy changed when the deer at Ponca tested positive.

“When we thought CWD was confined to the area where the elk was killed at Pruitt, we believed we could take the elk herd that was in close contact, maybe 30-40 animals,” Gray said.

The sampled deer and elk will be processed at a base camp staffed by AGFC and National Park Service personnel. Meat from deer that don’t test positive for CWD will be given to landowners where the deer were harvested or Arkansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry. Since only unhealthy elk will be harvested, meat from those animals will not be consumed. Everything that is not packaged for consumption will be incinerated.

“Landowners have been very helpful in allowing us access to their property,” Gray said. “Much of the land within the zone where we’ll be working is privately owned. We need their help and help from anyone who sees a deer or elk that appears to be ill.”

The public can report sick deer and elk by calling 800-482-9262, 24 hours a day.

Although there are no confirmed cases of CWD transmission from cervids to humans or to livestock, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and the Arkansas Department of Health recommend that people not consume meat from animals known to be infected with CWD.

CWD was first documented among captive mule deer in Colorado in 1967, and has been detected in 24 states and two Canadian provinces. It’s been found in the wild in 20 states and among captive cervids in 15 states. Biologists don’t know how the disease reached northern Arkansas at this point. The Arkansas elk herd began with 112 animals from Colorado and Nebraska, relocated during 1981-85.

The AGFC has taken several steps to prevent the disease from entering the state. The Commission established a moratorium on the importation of live cervids in 2002, and restricted the importation of cervid carcasses in 2005. It also set moratoriums on permits for commercial hunting resorts and breeder/dealer permits for cervid facilities in 2006, and on obtaining hand-captured white-tailed deer in 2012.

According to the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance (http://cwd-info.org), CWD affects only cervids (members of the cervidae family such as deer, elk and moose). Research shows that prions (abnormal cellular proteins) are transmitted through feces, urine and saliva. The shortest period between infection and symptoms of the disease is 16 months, although the infectious agent can survive for years in organic matter such as soil and plants.

CWD is a neurological disease that’s part of a group of diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. Once in a host’s body, prions transform normal cellular protein into abnormal shapes that accumulate until the cell ceases to function. As the brains of infected animals degenerate, they lose weight, lose their appetite and develop an insatiable thirst. They tend to stay away from herds, walk in patterns, carry their head low, salivate and grind their teeth.

Two meetings have been scheduled in Ponca and Huntsville to discuss the most recent finding of CWD.

The first meeting will be held in Ponca on Thursday, March 10. The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. at the Ponca Fire Department on Arkansas Highway 43.

The second meeting will be held on Friday, March 11 at Carroll Electric, 5056 Highway 412B in Huntsville. This meeting will begin at 6 p.m.

Visit www.agfc.com/cwd for more information.