KDWP awaiting lab results on more samples from 2008 deer season
Three Kansas white-tailed deer taken by hunters during the 2008 deer season have tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD) in analysis of tissue samples collected in recent weeks by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.
The three affected deer were taken in Decatur County. One of the deer was killed by a Colorado hunter, and subsequently tested and confirmed as CWD-positive at Colorado State University. Tissue samples from the other two deer yielded “presumptive positive” status after initial testing at Kansas State University, and were confirmed as positive in follow-up analysis at the USDA Veterinary Services Lab in Iowa.
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.
KDWP biologists have conducted annual sampling of hunter-harvested and road-killed deer since 1996. Analysis is still underway on tissue samples submitted by Kansas hunters during the recently-ended 2008 deer seasons. About half of the 1,300 samples collected from across Kansas have undergone lab analysis, and KDWP is awaiting results on the balance of those collected samples.
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. More information is also available on the KDWP website. Contact Bob Mathews at KDWP’s Pratt office (620/672-5911) for more information