KDWP awaiting lab results on more samples from 2008 deer season
Five more Kansas white-tailed deer have been confirmed positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD), bringing to eight the total number of CWD incidents from the 2008 Kansas deer seasons.
The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks is still awaiting final lab results on about 100 more tissue samples from hunter-killed deer during the past deer season, according to Shane Hesting, KDWP wildlife disease coordinator. More than 1,300 deer tissue samples were collected from hunters around the state during the past deer season, as KDWP continued annual sampling begun in 1996 to help track the occurrence of CWD in the state’s wild deer. More than 10,000 tissue samples have undergone lab analysis since annual sampling began.
All eight deer confirmed as CWD-positive were taken by hunters in northwest Kansas. Of the five additional CWD-positive deer confirmed by KDWP this week, two came from Sheridan County, two from Rawlins County, and one from Cheyenne County. The five newly-reported incidents are in addition to three Decatur County CWD-positive deer documented in early January by KDWP.
CWD has been detected previously in Kansas. During the 2007 season, three Decatur County whitetails were confirmed as CWD-positive. The first occurrence in a wild Kansas deer was a white-tailed doe killed by a Kansas hunter in 2005 in Cheyenne County.
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.
While CWD is fatal 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 8 CWD-positive deer from the 2008 seasons exhibited any outward sign of CWD symptoms.
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.