Chronic Wasting Disease Testing Continues

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The Department of Game and Fish has found no Chronic Wasting Disease in the 178 deer and elk tested so far this fall. Testing will continue through the remaining deer seasons, which conclude in January.

The only location in New Mexico known to have CWD is Unit 19, the White Sands Missile Range. A deer from there tested positive in June.

Chronic Wasting Disease is fatal to deer and elk. It is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy similar to mad cow disease in cattle and scrapie in sheep. In humans, this type of disease has several names: Creuzfeldt-Jakob Disease, kuru, new variant CJD, Gerstmann-Straussler-Scheinker syndrome and fatal familial insomnia.

Kerry Mower, disease specialist for the Department of Game and Fish, said biologists and conservation officers have taken an additional 60 samples from around the state to submit for CWD testing.

Mower said the Department, in conjunction with White Sands Missile Range personnel, will be live testing deer at White Sands in December. The animals will be trapped and sedated while biologists remove a portion of their tonsil tissue for testing. There is no similar live test for elk, he said. Brain stems from either deer or elk can be used to determine infected animals. Microscopic lesions appear in infected brain tissue. Either a loss of neurons in the brain or the accumulation of proteinaceous, infectious particles, or prions, cause the lesions. Prions are believed to be the cause of TSEs.

Any deer harvested during a Jan. 1-5 hunt on the Organ Mountains, adjacent to the Missile Range and within Unit 19, also will be tested. The 35 hunters who were issued permits for that hunt must check in and out with Department conservation officers.

The hunters are the first to be impacted by a new regulation adopted by the State Game Commission in October. Because they are hunting in Unit 19, known to contain CWD, they will not be allowed to remove any portion of the spinal cord from deer they take. They will be allowed to debone their animals. The only portion of a deer's head that may be removed from the hunt area is the skull plate with antlers attached and cleaned of all meat or tissue. Before leaving the field, skull plates also must be treated with a mixture or one part chlorine bleach and two parts water. All hunters are required to submit their deer for CWD sampling at a designated check station.

"Many states have adopted similar restrictions for their CWD-positive areas," Mower said. "This is an effort to reduce the potential of transferring this disease to uninfected parts of the state or country."

Among the states now requiring hunters to take these actions are: Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. The states where CWD has been found are: Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota, Montana, Illinois and Wisconsin. The Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan also have found CWD in either wild or game-farm animals.

The Department of Game and Fish suggests hunters observe the following precautions while handling any deer or elk they kill in areas known to have CWD:

* Do not shoot, handle or consume any animal that appears sick; immediately contact the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish at (505) 476-8038 if you see or harvest an animal that appears sick.

* Wear rubber gloves when field dressing carcasses.

* Bone out the meat from your animal.

* Minimize the handling of brain and spinal tissues.

* Wash hands and instruments thoroughly after field dressing is completed.

* Avoid consuming brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils and lymph nodes of harvested animals. (Normal field dressing coupled with boning out a carcass will remove most, if not all, of these body parts. Cutting away all fatty tissue will remove remaining lymph nodes.)

* Avoid consuming the meat from any animal that tests positive for the disease.