LARAMIE – The first elk to test positive for chronic wasting disease in hunt area 125, the Elk Mountain area on the north end of the Snowy Range, was discovered this week by the Game and Fish Department and the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory.
Prior to this discovery, CWD had only been found in elk in the Laramie Range stretching from Douglas to south of Laramie. CWD had been found since 2002 in deer in the corresponding hunt area taking in Elk Mountain.
“This is the furthest west CWD had been found in elk in Wyoming, and it is always disturbing when the range expands for either deer or elk,” said Bob Lanka, G&F Laramie Region wildlife coordinator.
The positive-testing elk was at least 6 years old and was harvested Oct. 24. Since 1997, 27 elk have been tested for CWD in area 125, including five in 2004.
Hank Edwards, wildlife disease specialist in charge of testing and mapping CWD data, reports his crew has examined the lymph nodes from 2,700 hunter-harvested deer and elk this fall for CWD. The crew has 300 to 400 mores samples to test this year. The only other new area discovered this fall was deer area 76 in the southeast Snowy Range.
Elk area 125 will be added to the department’s list of areas known to have CWD. Consequently, the G&F recommends that deer and elk hunters transport only the following items from area 125 and other areas where CWD is known to exist: cut and wrapped meat, boned meat, animal quarters or other pieces with no portion of the spinal column or head attached, hides without the head, cleaned skull plates (no meat or nervous tissue attached), antlers with no meat or other tissue attached. The head, spine and other nervous tissue – areas where the abnormal protein or prion causing the disease is found in infected animals — should be left at the site of the kill or disposed of in an approved landfill. The hunter will need to take the head if he or she would like to have it tested for CWD.
Despite these precautions to aid in preventing the disease from spreading to new areas, there is still no evidence that CWD is a human health risk.
After a review of available scientific data, the World Health Organization in December 1999 stated, “There is currently no evidence that CWD in cervidae (deer and elk) is transmitted to humans.” In 2004, Dr. Ermias Belay of the Center for Disease Control said, “The lack of evidence of a link between CWD transmission and unusual cases of CJD, [Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a human prion disease] despite several epidemiologic investigations,…suggest that the risk, if any, of transmission of CWD to humans is low.” Nonetheless to avoid any risk, both organizations say parts or products from any animal that looks sick or tests positive for CWD or other TSEs should not be eaten.
As tests are completed the G&F will keep the public informed of any other cases of CWD found in new hunt areas.