CWD is having a big impact

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) affects mule deer, elk, and white-tailed deer.
It has curtailed the transportation of these animals, and combined with high feed prices, has had a devastating impact on alternative livestock producers.
CWD first was discovered in the late 1960s in mule deer at a biological research station in Colorado. These deer were wild animals captured near the research station.
The first case of CWD in Canada was believed to be in a mule deer at the Toronto zoo in the late 1970s that was obtained from the Denver zoo.
Western Canada saw its first case of CWD in a game-ranched elk in Saskatchewan in 1996—again from a U.S. imported animal.
Since then, CWD has been found in one farmed elk and one farmed white-tailed deer in Alberta. In Saskatchewan, it has been found in more than 40 farmed herds and four wild mule deer.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has destroyed roughly 8,000 animals—mostly elk—in an attempt to curtail the spread of the disease.
CWD is caused by a prion—a protein that has an altered three-dimensional configuration. Clinical signs of the disease include unco-ordination, unthriftiness, weight loss, excessive salivation, and pneumonia.
Many of these signs are attributed to the lesions caused in the brains of affected animals.
Diagnosis requires microscopic examination of the brain, but there is ongoing research aimed at alternative methods, such as biopsy and blood samples.
It is believed some animals may incubate the disease for as long as three years without showing clinical signs. But if an animal gets CWD, it is 100 percent fatal.
Programs are in place requiring producers to submit the heads of all elk and deer older than one year old that die or are slaughtered.
Hunters in Alberta and Saskatchewan also are requested to submit the heads of animals killed in certain parts of the provinces, and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources has a pilot project to test 200 deer in the Owen Sound-Meaford area.
It’s not known how the disease spreads, however, it does seem likely the CWD existed in nature before the existence of modern game farming.
We do know it can spread between animals and from females to their offspring. It seems to spread more easily in situations where there are high densities of animals.
It is believed an environment can become infected and the transmit disease to healthy animals.
It is reasonable to assume bodily secretions such as saliva, urine, and feces can spread the disease. There also has been evidence to suggest there may be a genetic predisposition to the disease.
There is no evidence to suggest CWD can infect people or cattle. However, since we do not yet fully understand this disease, we need to be cautious. Any product from animals known to be infected with CWD is not allowed to enter the human or animal food chain.
Numerous studies are underway to better help us understand the nature of the disease. For example, why hasn’t this disease shown up in other countries with a long history of alternative livestock production?
The truth is, we just don’t know.

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