Another “presumptive positive” sample still awaiting results

On March 2, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) announced that 10 white-tailed deer from northwestern Kansas had tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD). These were animals taken by hunters in the 2009 hunting seasons. The agency is still awaiting the result from another deer sample that was presumed to be positive after preliminary testing at the K-State Diagnostic Veterinary Lab in Manhattan. That “presumptive positive” has been sent to the National Veterinary Services Lab in Ames, Iowa, for confirmation.

The one presumptive positive deer was taken by a hunter in Decatur County, and another four deer from that county have been confirmed positive. The other confirmed positives include two from Rawlins County and one each from Sheridan, Graham, Logan, and Thomas counties. One deer each from Sheridan and Thomas counties were exhibiting clinical symptoms of CWD.

In total, 2,702 animals were tested for CWD, including 16 elk, 278 mule deer, and 2,408 white-tailed deer. Although the agency has completed testing of its target sample for this hunting season, biologists are still collecting heads from road-killed deer in northwest Kansas. In addition, the agency is collecting road-killed deer in Harper County, near an area where a captive elk herd had to be destroyed in 2001 because of CWD.

Annual testing is part of ongoing effort by KDWP to monitor the prevalence and spread of CWD. The fatal disease was first detected in a wild deer taken in Cheyenne County in 2005. Three infected deer were taken in Decatur County in 2007 and 10 tested positive in 2008, all in northwest Kansas.

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. An animal may carry the disease without outward indication but in the later stages, signs may include behavioral changes such as decreased interactions with other animals, listlessness, lowering of the head, weight loss, repetitive walking in set patterns, and a lack of response to humans. Anyone who discovers a sick or suspect deer should contact the nearest KDWP office.

There is no vaccine or other biological method that prevents the spread of CWD. However, there is no evidence that CWD poses a risk to humans or livestock. Still, precautions should be taken. Hunters are advised not to eat meat from animals known to be infected, and common sense precautions are advised when field dressing and processing meat from animals taken in areas where CWD is found. More information on CWD can be found on KDWP’s website, or at the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance website.

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