Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer and Elk

Chronic Wasting Disease in deer and elk populations may travel via game farms.

| June/July 2004

  • Chronic Wasting Disease
    Chronic wasting disease (CWD), scrapie, mad cow and the human Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease are Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies or TSEs, in which a normal brain cell protein called "the prion protein" builds up in a misfolded form that kills nerve cells.
    Photo courtesy Fotolia/DJ_38

  • Chronic Wasting Disease

Wasting Illness May Travel via Game Farms

The first U.S. mad cow was diagnosed just last year, but for more than 30 years, deer in certain parts of this country are known to have been afflicted by a similar fatal neurological ailment called chronic wasting disease (CWD). Twenty years ago, the same illness was diagnosed in elk.

In the past nine years, possibly as a consequence of game farm practices, CWD in deer and elk has spread from two states to 10 more and two Canadian provinces. Hunters in certain areas now are being urged to have their deer and elk kills tested.

For 30 years, CWD in the wild was centered in portions of northeast Colorado and southeast Wyoming. Since 1997, it has turned up in the wild in Nebraska, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Illinois, New Mexico, Utah and Saskatchewan, too.

Game farms also have had the disease appear, and many suspect that animal sales between farms, as well as escapees, helped transport the disease.

From 1996 to 2002, CWD was discovered on game farms in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma and South Dakota. Overall, there are about 12,000 deer and elk farms in the U.S. and Canada.

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