JACKSBORO, Tenn. – While the panic over chronic wasting disease appears to be dying down, the testing to find out how widespread the disease is has just begun.
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has collected nearly 1,400 brain tissue samples from hunter-killed deer and sent them to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at the University of Georgia. Testing the samples for CWD is expected to begin in the next few weeks.
“We’re still collecting samples and hope to get another 500 to 700 for this year,” said Larry Marcum, TWRA chief of wildlife. “In the next three years we expect to test between 6,000 and 6,500 deer in Tennessee.”
Marcum and Dr. John Fisher from the University of Georgia were in Jacksboro to address Campbell Outdoor Recreation Association about the state of CWD in Tennessee and across the United States. Once considered a localized problem of western states, CWD became a front-burner issue across the country when it was found in a Wisconsin deer last spring.
CWD was recently found in some Illinois deer just south of the area where it was discovered in Wisconsin. So far it has not been found in any other states east of the Mississippi River.
In August, Fisher made a similar presentation to Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission.
“When CWD was found in Wisconsin that was the dam buster,” Fisher said. “That emphasized to us that in the east we’re not as insulated from this as we thought. We’ll know a lot more about the disease after this year.”
Fisher said about 225,000 deer and elk from across the nation are being tested for CWD this year. The University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine is one of 15 laboratories around the country that will be conducting the tests.
“We’ll know more at the end of this year, but it shouldn’t be looked at as a one-year process,” Fisher said.
The only animals from Tennessee that have been tested were 13 elk from Royal Blue. All of those results were negative. Originally TWRA planned on collecting samples from about 1,000 deer statewide, but Marcum said it was decided a greater number of animals could and should be a part of the process.
Biologists, wildlife officers and technicians collect lymph nodes and a portion of the brain from freshly killed deer – and that is what goes to Georgia. Testing consists of everything from dying and slicing the samples to treating them with various chemicals before it can be determined if an animal is infected with CWD.
It’s estimated that the cost of the tests – which includes costs of collecting, packaging, shipping and the actual testing – is $75 to $80 per sample.
“It’s a pretty substantial investment in manpower and the tests cost $20 each,” Marcum said.
Fisher said right now there is no better way to test for CWD. He said there is no feasible form of live testing and doesn’t expect there to be one in the near future.
“There are a lot of people trying to develop a live test,” Fisher said. “In Europe, every cow that is slaughtered has to be tested for Mad Cow Disease (which is the same type of disease as CWD) and you would think if something could happen soon it would have already happened there.”
Fisher said the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study is testing deer from 10 southeastern states.