2002 Chronic Wasting Disease Surveillance Completed

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Researchers from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the State Veterinary Laboratory recently completed tests to monitor chronic wasting disease (CWD), a disease of some deer and elk.

Researchers analyzed 2,550 samples – 1,755 deer and 795 elk -- during Wyoming’s 2002 hunting season, with 105 deer and five elk testing positive. Currently, CWD has been found in 23 of Wyoming’s 152 deer hunt areas.

During six years of surveillance, only eight elk in three hunt areas have tested positive. Because of this low prevalence rate in elk the G&F records elk positives on the deer hunt area maps.

The State Veterinary Lab is a partner on CWD surveillance. The facility reads slides containing stained brain material collected from deer and elk to determine if the CWD prion, or abnormal protein, is present.

“Working with people from the state vet lab has been a great opportunity. They share in the workload, and add the world renowned expertise of Dr. Elizabeth Williams,” says Walt Cook, G&F veterinarian. “The partnership allows us to get reliable results in a timely manner.”

CWD was first documented in southeast Wyoming in the late 1960s, and the G&F started conducting CWD surveillance in 1997. The G&F monitors the occurrence of CWD in two ways: obtaining samples from deer and elk harvested during hunting seasons (hunter surveillance), and also from animals suspected of having CWD (targeted surveillance).

“Hunters provide us with the vast majority of our information,” says Bob Lanka, Laramie Region’s wildlife coordinator. “Samples from harvested animals are used to document the location, occurrence and prevalence of the disease.”

In 2002, CWD was discovered in five hunt areas where it had not been previously documented, but not in four areas where it was previously found.

“We are finding CWD in new places because we are looking harder near areas with documented cases,” Lanka says. “We plan to intensify surveillance again this fall in an effort to find the leading edge of the disease.”

The G&F plans to conduct statewide surveillance next hunting season. A quicker and proven effective procedure called the ELISA test will be used.

The G&F will be in designated deer hunt areas the first five days of hunting seasons to take retropharyngeal lymph nodes, located at the angle of the jaw.

Those interested in finding out more about CWD in Wyoming, including a map of where positive samples were taken this year, can check out the G&F Web site at http://gf.state.wy.us/cwd/.