CWD contingency plan includes further sampling PRATT–Three white-tailed deer taken by hunters in Decatur County have tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD), according to the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.
Dr. Ruby Mosher, KDWP’s wildlife disease coordinator, said the initial screening tests performed by Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory have been confirmed by the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa. All three deer were taken by hunters along Sappa Creek in central Decatur County, north of Oberlin, which is in the northwest corner of the state. Testing is still to be completed on approximately two-thirds of the samples collected by KDWP for testing. The samples from northwestern Kansas are given priority since they are from deer that have a higher known risk of being exposed to CWD than those in the rest of the state. As results are returned over the next 6 to 8 weeks, regular updates will be posted on the KDWP website here.
CWD has been detected twice previously in Kansas. The first case was in 2001 in a captive elk herd in Harper County. The other occurred during the 2005 hunting season in a wild whitetail doe harvested in Cheyenne County.
Last month, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission reported a CWD-positive deer from an area just a few miles north of Decatur County, in Red Willow County, Nebraska.
Wildlife biologists from Kansas and Nebraska plan to sample more deer in the vicinity in February to help determine the prevalence of the disease in the area.
Tissue samples from more than 2,200 deer taken by hunters during the most recent Kansas hunting season have been submitted for lab analysis. The three affected deer from Decatur County were among those samples, and the hunters who shot those deer have been notified.
KDWP biologists have conducted annual sampling of hunter-harvested and road-killed deer since 1996. 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. 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 (www.cwd-info.org). More information is also available on the KDWP website (enter “CWD” in the search box at the KDWP website: www.kdwp.state.ks.us). Contact Bob Mathews at KDWP’s Pratt office (620/672-5911) for more information.