Chronic Wasting Disease Test Results for 2000 Hunting Season

February 22, 2001 Wyoming Game and Fish News by Michelle Zitek 
and Jeff Obrecht

CHEYENNE - Tests for chronic wasting disease in deer and elk taken during the 2000 hunting season were completed recently. Results indicate that the level of chronic wasting disease in southeast Wyoming is remaining fairly constant.

"Test results from Colorado and Wyoming over the last few years indicate that statistically the incidence of CWD is relatively steady," said Dr. Beth Williams, veterinary pathologist for the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory and University of Wyoming.

In Wyoming's endemic area, which includes hunt areas 16, 55, 57, 59-66, 73 and 88 of Goshen, Platte, Albany, western Laramie and southern Natrona and Converse counties, about 10 percent of the 780 deer sampled from check stations, locker plants and vehicle collisions tested positive for the disease.

An additional 663 deer sampled from outside the endemic area, including areas in the Black Hills, Snowy Range and Sierra Madres all tested negative for the disease. Samples from 55 elk collected in 2000 also failed to show any sign of the disease.

Chronic wasting disease was first recognized in the late 1960s. Wyoming began limited testing of hunter-harvested animals in 1983 and extensive testing commenced in 1997.

"Both Wyoming and Colorado are actively testing for chronic wasting disease to monitor the distribution and incidence of disease and chart the changes over time," said Williams, who is recognized as a leading authority on the disease.

Although the disease was recently found in a wild deer in Nebraska just across the Colorado and Wyoming borders, Williams says that the testing in both states, plus tests from the Nebraska panhandle, indicate the disease is not spreading rapidly.

The name chronic wasting disease reflects the impacts it has on infected deer. The disease is a progressive ailment of the nervous system that is caused by an abnormal protein called a prion. In its final stages, the disease induces deteriorating body condition, excessive salivation, both increased thirst and urination and eventually death.

Brain diseases caused by prions are collectively called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. This group of maladies includes:

-- scrapie, a disease of domestic sheep and goats, which has been recognized for centuries -- bovine spongiform encephalopathy, a disease of cattle in Europe commonly called "mad cow disease." -- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, an extremely rare, but fatal human malady.

British researchers have linked bovine spongiform encephalopathy with a new strain or variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's advisory panel on transmissible spongiform encephalopathies and a committee of the World Health Organization have both stated there currently is no evidence CWD is a human health threat.

"Both organizations stop short of saying that it is impossible for CWD to be transmitted to humans, and I wouldn't say that either," says Dr. Tom Thorne, wildlife veterinarian and Service Division chief for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

For those who hunt in southeast Wyoming and are concerned about CWD, Thorne advises hunters not to shoot any animal, deer or otherwise, that appears sick, regardless of the suspected cause. He also recommends wearing rubber gloves when field dressing any game and not to eat or handle the brain, spinal cord, spleen, eyes or lymph nodes.

Extensive testing for chronic wasting disease will continue during the 2001 hunting season in southeast Wyoming and northeast Colorado. "Hunters have been an invaluable partner in learning the range and extent of chronic wasting disease," said Bob Lanka, G&F wildlife management coordinator in southeast Wyoming. "Overall hunters have been eager to let us take samples from their deer or elk for testing."

He also asks anyone that spots a visibly sick deer or elk anytime during the year to contact the G&F.

The G&F and Colorado Division of Wildlife are managing chronic wasting disease as a regional problem. The agencies regularly collaborate about the disease, sharing their information on testing procedures and results.

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