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Chronic wasting disease spreads in Colorado

September 30, 2002 Environment News Service
DENVER, Colorado, September 30, 2002 (ENS) - An injured elk killed by a Division of Wildlife officer September 6 in Routt County tested positive for chronic wasting disease, the first time an elk with the disease has been found outside the endemic area of northeastern Colorado.

An area resident had first called the Division to report an injured elk along a county road. The wildlife officer found the elk in poor condition suffering from an injured jaw. The animal was tested for chronic wasting disease as part of the agency's disease surveillance effort. Two different tests performed at Colorado State University's diagnostic laboratory confirmed the elk was infected with chronic wasting disease (CWD).

"This is disappointing, but not a surprise," said Jeff Ver Steeg, the Division of Wildlife's terrestrial wildlife manager. "Earlier this year we found 10 wild mule deer with CWD in Routt County, so we knew it was possible that other deer may have the disease in that area. We were hoping that we would not find it in elk."

Nearly 700 deer and elk have been submitted for testing to the Division of Wildlife by Colorado hunters so far in September, and testing has been completed on more than 400 at Colorado State.

Six animals have tested positive so far - two deer and two elk from the established area in northeastern Colorado, one deer west of Chatfield Reservoir and the Routt County elk.

"We are continuing to encourage hunters to submit deer and elk for testing as part of our surveillance program," Ver Steeg said. "When the hunting season is completed and we've had time to evaluate all of the test results, we will determine what additional management we may need to undertake in specific areas."

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal neurological disease of deer and elk that has been established in a portion of northeastern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming for more than two decades. About five percent of deer and less than one percent of elk are infected within the established area. The only other area where the disease has been found in Colorado is in Routt County in northwestern Colorado.

An aberrant protein found in the brain, nervous system and lymphatic tissue of deer and elk causes the disease.

State and federal health officials have found no link between chronic wasting disease and any illness in humans or any other species. As a precaution, hunters are urged not to eat the meat of any animal infected with chronic wasting disease or any other disease.

Hunters may submit deer and elk for CWD testing at Division of Wildlife offices around the state. The complete list is available at: http:/ /www.wildlife.state.co.us

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