Disease wipes out one-fifth of elk herd: Scientists wrestle with rapid spread of chronic wasting disease infections throughout province

Disease wipes out one-fifth of elk herd:
Scientists wrestle with rapid spread of chronic wasting disease infections throughout province

May 25, 2001 The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) by Randy Burton and Greg Pender
Chronic wasting disease in Saskatchewan's domestic elk herd has spread to at least three additional farms, prompting the imminent destruction of about 1,000 more animals by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

The latest discoveries will bring the total number of deer and elk killed in the province to more than 4,500.

This means one-fifth of the Saskatchewan domestic elk herd will have been destroyed as a result of the disease.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy which attacks the brains and nervous systems of cervid (deer family) animals. How it is transmitted is not known by scientists, who do not believe it can cross the species barrier into other animals [I do not know of a single scientist in the field who doubts that CWD can probably infect other species--BSE coordinator].

While CWD is related to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the variant of mad-cow disease that affects humans [the variant of mad cow disease killing people is variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease--BSE coordinator], there is no evidence to suggest it can be transmitted to humans either [There is evidence that CWD prions can infect human brain tissue--BSE coordinator].

In an interview Thursday, George Luterbach, chief veterinarian of animal health for Western Canadian with the CFIA, said the new findings are the result of so-called ``traceouts'' from the original infected farm in the Lloydminster area where CWD was detected last winter.

The CFIA has been tracking down all of the animals sold from that farm to other domestic elk enterprises in the past several months. Three of these traceouts have been found to be infected with CWD, necessitating the destruction of all other animals they may have come in contact with.

The latest discoveries show that animals that are two commercial transactions removed from the original source farm have now been infected.

In spite of the spread of the disease, Luterbach maintains the CFIA's eradication program is working.

``These are all linked to each other, and we're working through it. Each time we find another positive then we eliminate that herd plus its sales and eliminate them.''

In the meantime, there is still no ban on commercial elk sales in the province. As long as the disease has not been found in a particular herd, elk farmers are still permitted to sell their animals.

Luterbach said permits are required for the movement of elk between farms ``so we have a good tracking system. As well in Saskatchewan, all the elk have to bear at least double identification. With the identification and the permits we readily know where they are.''

The CFIA pays compensation of up to $4,000 for each animal Destroyed. By the time the latest kill is conducted the federal agency will have paid out more than $14 million to producers.

CWD has also been discovered in one wild deer, and concern is mounting in wildlife circles that the disease could deal a body blow to the multi-million-dollar hunting industry.


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