February 21, 2002 Aberdeen American News by David DickeyThe South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks announced Wednesday that a deer harvested by a hunter during the recent hunting season in Fall River County, located in the southwestern corner of the state, has tested positive for chronic wasting disease.
John Cooper, Secretary of the Department of Game, Fish and Parks, voiced concerns about the disease when in Aberdeen earlier this month. At that time, he noted that there had been no reported cases of the disease in free-ranging deer or elk in the state and that extensive testing was being done to detect the disease should it enter the state. So far, the only way to detect the disease is by testing the brains of deer and elk. Currently, there is no evidence that CWD can be transmitted to humans or to animals other than deer and elk.
"I don't think it's totally alarming," said Dr. Sam Holland, State Veterinarian. "The disease has been detected in other states as far back as 30 years or more, and we knew it had been detected in low prevalence in western Nebraska. We've been working with the Department of Game, Fish and Parks for four years on this, and during that time we've tested 1,500 brains. It's a concern, but I don't think people who know about the disease are panicking." Cooper said aggressive testing measures will continue to be taken to help detect and prevent further cases of CWD.
"Our plan is to work closely with the area landowners to determine the extent of the disease," Cooper said. "We will be harvesting between 50 and 100 additional deer in southern Fall River County to test for presence of CWD." Prior to Wednesday's announcement by GFP, CWD had been detected in Nebraska, about 10 miles from the South Dakota border.
CWD, which also has been detected in northeastern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming, causes damage to the brain of deer and elk and is always fatal. The most obvious and consistent clinical sign of CWD is weight loss over time and behavioral changes in the majority of cases.
"Because of the contagious nature of the disease, we felt there was a very real possibility it might show up in our state," Holland said. "The Animal Industry Board and the Department of Game, Fish and Parks have taken this threat very seriously and have closely monitored this situation.
Because of the on-going surveillance by Game, Fish and Parks, I think they've got a leg up in an attempt to get rid of the disease." The heads of more than 500 deer were collected from South Dakota hunters this past fall to test for CWD. Of those, 76 were collected in Fall River County. The infected deer was among those 76, and there are still more to be tested.
Cooper said an action plan has been in the works, and is in the process of being implemented. This includes additional testing of deer heads. He also noted that states where CWD has been identified have not had to halt their deer or elk hunting season.
"At this time, we plan to proceed with our basic deer and elk management plans and seasons, but with possible modification in any management units where CWD is found," Cooper said. "We want to be proactive in working to eliminate CWD from South Dakota. Our goal is to do that and not disrupt our wildlife management programs."