CWD-positive deer reported from 2,693 samples collected by KDWP

PRATT -- The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) has reported 10 chronic wasting disease (CWD) cases from among almost 2,700 deer tissue samples collected and submitted for lab analysis by KDWP in recent months. Eight of the CWD-positive deer tissue samples had been reported earlier by KDWP, and two additional positive tests were recently confirmed in the final batch of samples submitted for lab analysis, according to Shane Hesting, KDWP’s wildlife disease coordinator.

KDWP collected 2,693 tissue samples throughout the 2008 hunting seasons. Included in that total were nine elk; none of the elk samples tested positive for CWD. KDWP has conducted annual sampling of deer and elk since 1996 to help track the occurrence of CWD.

“Emphasis was placed on obtaining more samples in northwest Kansas to assess the prevalence and distribution of the disease because that area is adjacent to past CWD occurrences in neighboring states,” Hesting said. "It is the only area of Kansas where CWD has been documented. About 20 percent of the samples collected in Kansas were from that 12-county area, so the increased number of detections may be the result of more intensive sampling combined with the natural spread of the disease.”

All 10 deer confirmed as CWD-positive were white-tailed deer taken by hunters in northwest Kansas. Of the CWD-positive deer confirmed by KDWP, five came from Decatur County, two from Sheridan County, two from Rawlins County, and one from Cheyenne County.

CWD had been documented previously in Kansas. During the 2007 season, three Decatur County whitetails were confirmed as CWD-positive. The first detection in a wild Kansas deer was a white-tailed doe killed by a Kansas hunter in 2005 in Cheyenne County. Prior to that, CWD was detected in a captive elk in Harper County in 2001.

Although research is underway, there is currently no vaccine or other biological method of preventing CWD. The only tool is to prevent the spread of CWD to new areas, because once the infective particle (an abnormal prion) is deposited into the environment -- either through an infected carcass or from a live animal -- it may exist for a decade or more, capable of infecting a healthy deer.

Despite the recent occurrences, the likelihood of finding CWD in a wild deer harvested in Kansas is small. That small likelihood decreases even more the farther from northwestern Kansas the deer lived. In recent years, numerous cases of CWD have been documented in neighboring areas of Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming.

CWD is a progressive, fatal disease to deer and elk that results in small holes developing in the brain, giving it a sponge-like appearance under the microscope. It is a member of a group of diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). Other diseases in this group include scrapie in sheep and goats, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or mad cow disease) in cattle, and Cruetzfeldt-Jacob disease in people. Humans have never been known to contract CWD.

None of the 10 CWD-positive deer from the 2008 seasons exhibited any outward symptoms that are common, but in terminal stages of the disease, CWD causes decreased brain function, making the animal display neurological symptoms such as depression, droopy head, loss of appetite, and a lack of response to man. The continuing deterioration of the brain leads to other symptoms such as stumbling, circling, weight loss, drooling, and excessive thirst. Caution is advised because of unknown factors associated with prion diseases.

Although, no human health risks have been discovered where CWD occurs, any sick deer or elk should be reported it to the nearest KDWP office or the Emporia Research Office, 620-342-0658.

Hunters can help protect the health of the Kansas deer herd by taking the following steps to avoid accidentally introducing CWD to a new area in Kansas:

  • do not transport deer carcasses far from the area where the deer lived, especially from areas where CWD has been detected, such as northwestern Kansas; and
  • if a carcass is transported, the hunter should make sure that carcass waste is not dumped into the environment where local deer or elk can come into contact with it. Carcass waste can be disposed of by double-bagging it and taking it to a landfill.

The Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance maintains an online clearinghouse of information about the disease. More information is also available on the KDWP website, www.kdwp.state.ks.us. Phone Bob Mathews at KDWP’s Pratt Operations Office, 620-672-5911, for more information.