Second Group of Farmed Elk Test Negative

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The Minnesota Board of Animal Health today announced that the second group of 15 elk from an Aitkin County elk herd has tested negative for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). These findings bring the total number of negative cases from the Aitkin County farm to 27.

The Aitkin County herd has been held under quarantine since Aug. 30, when CWD was detected in a single adult male elk. The second group of 15 elk was shipped to the University of Minnesota's Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in St. Paul, where they were euthanized. Veterinarians took tissue samples from each animal and submitted them for testing to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa. The remaining 21 animals will be euthanized and tested over the next couple of weeks.

Board of Animal Health Executive Director Bill Hartmann said the test results are encouraging.

"We're pleased to see that none of the farmed elk and wild deer we've looked at have tested positive for CWD," Hartmann said. "This is a good indicator that the disease hasn't spread, but we need to complete the testing before we reach any conclusions."

To date, no other elk on the Aitkin elk farm have shown symptoms of CWD. However, state animal health officials decided to euthanize the entire herd because it is thought that CWD may be transmitted by animal-to-animal contact and the only way to test an animal for CWD is to obtain a brain sample.

The only confirmed case of CWD in Minnesota was the single male elk that died on the Aitkin County farm. In addition to the Aitkin County herd being tested by Board of Animal Health, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is testing wild deer culled within a nine-square-mile area surrounding the farm. So far, 97 deer killed by DNR sharpshooters, archery hunters, area landowners and traffic accidents have been submitted for testing. The DNR has received test results from 25 of those deer, all of which were negative.

CWD is a fatal brain and nervous system disease found in elk and deer in certain parts of North America. The disease is believed to be caused by an abnormally shaped protein called a prion, which can damage brain and nerve tissue. Infected animals show progressive loss of body weight with accompanying behavioral changes. In later stages of the disease, infected animals become emaciated (thus "wasting" disease). Other signs include staggering, consuming large amounts of water, excessive urination and drooling.