The Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory has tested about 37,000 samples of deer brains for chronic wasting disease and shipped only two suspicious samples to a federal laboratory in Iowa to verify findings, the administrator of the Madison lab said Wednesday.
One of the samples was a wild deer from Sheboygan County, said Dr. Robert Shull, director of the Madison laboratory.
Testing of that deer found some very basic indicators that it could be diseased, but the sample was too inadequate for scientists at either laboratory to know for sure, Shull said.
“The Sheboygan sample was an inconclusive,” he said. “It was as if that deer was never shot. There is no conclusive evidence that CWD exists in Sheboygan County.”
That sample was the only one raising any question whether chronic wasting disease existed in wild deer beyond the Mount Horeb area, where the disease was discovered in February 2002, Shull said.
The other deer-brain sample shipped to the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, was an escaped deer from a game farm in Walworth County, and testing verified the deer had chronic wasting disease, Shull said.
That deer was linked to the James Hirschboeck farm near Eagle where five captive deer were found with the disease. It was sent to Iowa to double-check state analysis because of the unique circumstances of it getting into the wild, Shull said.
In September, state officials reported a deer killed on a Portage County private hunting preserve had chronic wasting disease, the first case of the disease in the state’s captive deer herd.
CWD creates sponge-like holes in a deer’s brain, causing the animal to grow thin, act abnormally and die. Scientists believe it is spread by contact between animals, and although there is no scientific evidence it can infect humans, people are advised not to eat an infected deer.
The most recent Department of Natural Resources report on the testing, issued last Friday, indicated 217 of the 263 samples submitted from deer killed in Sheboygan County had been tested. None were positive.
Shull said all the samples had been tested by Wednesday. “We are done with testing,” he said. “Our people are disposing of samples and cleaning up the lab.” The DNR’s next report on the testing will be issued Friday. The testing program cost at least $500,000, he said.
Shull said “way under 1 percent” of the samples submitted for disease testing of wild deer were inadequate to do the needed analysis.
The testing found mostly “absolutely clear negatives,” and when a sample was positive, it would “knock the socks off” the examiner, Shull said.
“We have great confidence in the results we generated,” he said.
The DNR reported Friday that 141 deer had tested positive for the disease from among the 36,280 brain samples that had been submitted for laboratory analysis in an unprecedented attempt to find out how widespread the disease existed in the whitetail herd.
The diseased deer included 74 in Iowa County, 65 in Dane County, one in Richland County and one in Sauk County.
Only six deer with the disease have been found outside the 411-square-mile eradication zone around Mount Horeb where the DNR wants all the deer killed.
Those six were found in the so-called management zone nearby.
The testing indicates the disease only exists in the Mount Horeb area and probably has been in the herd there for at least four years, Shull said.
DNR wildlife administrator Tom Hauge has said it’s unlikely that wildlife health experts will ever declare a county free of the disease based on the testing.
It is conceivable the disease is occurring at such a low level that the random testing can’t find it, he said.
Mark Kessenich of rural Mount Horeb, a spokesman for Citizens Against Irrational Deer Slaughter, which opposes the DNR’s eradication plan, said he did not expect any opposition to change even though the disease has not been found elsewhere.
“Fundamentally, no one believes that you can eradicate deer from the Mount Horeb area. It is not a possibility,” he said.