PRATT KS -- The number of positive cases of chronic wasting disease (CWD in Kansas appears to be stable for now. On March 2, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) announced that 10 deer from northwestern Kansas had tested positive for chronic wasting disease, the same number as last year although two of those deer were found in counties farther east than any previous confirmations. These were animals taken by hunters in the 2010 hunting seasons.
Six confirmed cases of CWD deer were taken by hunters in Decatur County and one each from Graham, Norton, Sherman, and Smith counties. The Norton, Sherman, and Smith cases were firsts for those counties. The cases included nine white-tailed and one mule deer. This season's testing results brings the total number of confirmed CWD cases in Kansas to 40 since testing began in 1996. In total, 2,503 animals were tested for CWD for the 2010 deer seasons. Although most testing is finished for the year, KDWP will continue testing some vehicle-killed and sick or suspect-looking deer, as well as deer taken with depredation permits, through July 31. If U.S. Department of Agriculture funding is available, and new surveillance period will begin Aug. 1.
Annual testing is part of ongoing effort by KDWP to monitor the prevalence and spread of CWD. The fatal disease was first detected in a wild deer taken in Cheyenne County in 2005. Three infected deer were taken in Decatur County in 2007 and 10 tested positive in 2008, all in northwest Kansas.
CWD is a member of the 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. CWD is a progressive, fatal disease that results in small holes developing in the brain, giving it a sponge-like appearance under the microscope. An animal may carry the disease without outward indication (only two of the 40 positive animals showed symptoms) but in the later stages, signs may include behavioral changes such as decreased interactions with other animals, listlessness, lowering of the head, weight loss, repetitive walking in set patterns, and a lack of response to humans. Anyone who discovers a sick or suspect deer should contact the nearest KDWP office.
"It must be noted that many symptoms of CWD are indicative of other diseases," says KDWP wildlife disease coordinator Shane Hesting. "Thus, a sick deer may or may not be infected with CWD. CWD is a serious deer disease but is still a rare disease in Kansas. There is no vaccine or other biological method that prevents the spread of CWD. However, there is no evidence that CWD poses a risk to humans or livestock in the natural environment."
Still, precautions should be taken. Hunters are advised not to eat meat from animals known to be infected, and common sense precautions are advised when field dressing and processing meat from animals taken in areas where CWD is found. More information on CWD can be found on KDWP's website, www.kdwp.state.ks.us or at the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance website, www.cwd-info.org.
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