CWD confirmed in elk herd

Sask. farm | Wildlife official says disease must be taken seriously

Saskatchewan’s first chronic wasting disease case of the year has been confirmed.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency reported on its website that an elk farm was confirmed as infected Feb. 3.

This brings the total number of domestic deer and elk herds in Canada to 71 since CWD was first documented in 1996.

A high of 21 cases was recorded in 2001, but most years since have averaged three confirmations per year.

Terry Bolinger, regional director of the Canadian Wildlife Health Co-operative in Saskatoon, warned against not taking the disease seriously just because the number of cases is low.

“This problem is not going to go away. It’s well established in wildlife populations so it is going to continue to be introduced into game ranches due to contact with wildlife reservoirs,” said Bolinger.

“It indicates (the one case) that it’s smoldering along as a disease that crosses into game ranches.… As it spreads more widely in the province, if they don’t enhance their biosecurity around game ranches, I think those numbers will start to increase again.”

CWD is a reportable disease under the Health of Animals Regulations, and all suspected cases must be reported to the CFIA. Testing is mandatory in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the Yukon. Reporting is voluntary in the rest of Canada.

Bolinger said there’s evidence that the prevalence of CWD is increasing in areas where it is established. There’s also confirmation that it’s spreading further in Saskatchewan and Alberta.

There are also potential concerns beyond wild cervids.

“It’s transmissible to caribou, reindeer and they’ve detected it in moose in other locations,” he said.

Bolinger said proposed strategies include reducing contact with wild populations of deer and elk, but further research is needed on how to deal with the disease in the wild.

One possible bright spot is research by the Vaccine Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO-InterVac) in Saskatoon.

“There are some potential developments that might be useful in managing the disease in game ranches and in the wild, but we don’t have any concrete solutions at this stage.”

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