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Wasting disease affecting elk can remain in soil, expert tells Sask. group

February 24, 2002 Canadian Press Newswire
SASKATOON (CP) _ Chronic wasting disease can withstand extreme temperatures and survive quite nicely in soil for an indefinite time period, an expert told delegates at a weekend convention of the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation.

Because chronic wasting disease is not viral or bacterial, but an abnormal form of a prion protein, it is not susceptible to degradation, said Trent Bollinger, of the Canadian Co-operative Wildlife Health Centre.

That worried members of the wildlife federation. ''The whole idea that this disease can remain in the ground concerns us,'' said Lorne Scott, federation executive director. ''Even though the captive animals may have been removed, wild animals may be frequenting these areas and picking the disease up.''

The fatal disease attacks the brains and nervous systems of animals in the deer family. It's related to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a variant of mad cow disease that affects humans. No evidence exists to suggest that chronic wasting disease can be transmitted to humans.

More than 7,500 elk have been destroyed in combating the disease _ more than one-quarter of the farmed elk population in Saskatchewan. The disease was also detected in two wild mule deer in the province.

Delegates also heard that research in the United States indicates chronic wasting disease builds up in one area and fans out.

Kevin Omoth, an analyst with the province's fish and wildlife division, said U.S. researchers made the discovery when they tested animals living near an infected Nebraska shoot farm.

Nearly half the animals on the farm had the disease, while 37 per cent of those living within a three-kilometre radius were infected.

Scott worries the province could be headed for the same fate as its southern neighbour. ''I'm sure there's more out there,'' he said. ''When we look at what's happened with the animals in Nebraska, it's strongly indicated the disease can be spread from nose-to-nose contact. With page-wire fences, deer are curious, and they'll sniff noses with captive or wild animals.''

This is why double-fencing should be a serious consideration, said Scott, who wishes to see the disease cleared out of the province.

Realistically, though, he says there's still a long road ahead of ridding Saskatchewan of chronic wasting disease.

It was first introduced into Saskatchewan in 1996 when an animal from an infected South Dakota herd was shipped into the province.

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