PRATT – A total of 640 deer were tested for chronic wasting disease (CWD) during the 2014-2015 seasons, and 10 of those were confirmed positive. Samples were obtained from deer killed by hunters in southcentral and southwest parts of Kansas and from sick and/or suspect deer observed in the eastern, northcentral and northwest parts of the state. The 10 confirmed positives included two mule deer, one from Rawlins County and one from Scott County; and eight whitetails including two from Decatur County and one from each of the following counties, Norton, Meade, Hodgeman, Pawnee, Kearny, and Gray.
CWD testing began in 1996 to help track the occurrence of CWD in the state’s wild deer, and nearly 25,000 tissue samples have undergone lab analysis since. The first CWD occurrence documented in a wild Kansas deer was a whitetail doe killed by a hunter in 2005 in Cheyenne County. Seventy-four deer have tested positive since testing began, and most have occurred in northwest Kansas, specifically Decatur, Rawlins, Sheridan and Norton counties.
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. 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 live. 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.
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 signs such as depression, droopy head, staggering, loss of appetite, and a lack of response to people. The continuing deterioration of the brain leads to other signs such as weight loss, drooling, rough coat, 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. Any sick deer or elk with signs listed above or exhibiting behaviors such as stumbling, holding the head at an odd angle, walking in circles, entangled in fences or staying near farm buildings for extended periods of time should be reported to the nearest KDWPT office or the Emporia Research Office, 620-342-0658.
Hunters can help protect the health of the Kansas deer herd and slow CWD’s spread by not introducing the disease to new areas in Kansas through disposal of deer carcass waste. Avoid transporting a deer carcass from the area where it was taken, especially from areas where CWD has been detected. If the carcass is transported, dispose of carcass waste by double-bagging it and taking it to a landfill. Landowners can also bury carcasses on their own property.
The Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance maintains an online clearinghouse of information about the disease. More information is also available at www.ksoutdoors.com.