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Chronic Wasting Disease Confirmed in Michigan

PhotoBy Gary Engberg

-- Now, Michigan can be added to the list of states that have confirmed cases of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). Presence of the disease was officially confirmed Aug. 25, 2008, when the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, reported that a deer from a privately owned game farm in Kent County had tested positive for CWD. The deer facility is located just north of the city of Grand Rapids, Mich., in the Lower Peninsula.

The infected deer was a doe that had recently been culled by the game farm's owner. Michigan law requires that sick or culled deer from any privately owned cervid (POC) facility be tested for disease. Cervids include deer, elk and moose. CWD is a fatal neurological disease that can affect all cervids. Most cases of the disease have been in Western states, but in the last decade CWD has made its way into some Midwestern and Eastern states.
     
CWD has been found in commercial game farms in Colorado, Nebraska, Minnesota, South Dakota, Montana, Oklahoma, Kansas, Wisconsin and New York. In the last decade, the disease has also been found in wild deer and elk in portions of states including; Illinois, New Mexico, Utah, Wisconsin, New York, West Virginia, Kansas and now in the province of Saskatchewan. CWD was even found in deer at a game farm in Korea.
    
Dr. Mike Miller from the Colorado Department of Wildlife and an expert on CWD said at a symposium recently held in Michigan on "The Science of Deer Management" that CWD is very mysterious "in that it sometimes shows up where it is least expected, and its appearance in Michigan was not the result of any failing by state officials."

Miller went on to say that it is imperative that wildlife managers do all they can to prevent the spread of the disease. He went on to say that, "Prevention is the critical aspect, and though the long-term consequences are not clear, it is far easier to deal with early on than it will be later."

In Miller's opinion, Michigan is going by the book and doing the right things to contain the disease. 
     
Currently, evidence suggests that the disease is transmitted through infectious and self-multiplying proteins called prions, which are contained in saliva and other fluids of infected deer. Animals that are susceptible to CWD can acquire the disease from direct exposure to these fluids or from contaminated environments. Once contaminated, research has shown that the soil can remain a source of infection for long periods of time, which makes the disease so difficult to eradicate. It has yet to be shown that the disease can be eliminated, since infected areas in Colorado (where some of the early cases of CWD were reported) still have the disease. 

Michigan wasted little time in reacting to the confirmed incidence of CWD as the state has quarantined all POC game farms, prohibiting the movement (dead or alive) of any privately owned deer, elk, or moose. State officials do not know how many deer might have contacted the disease. The important thing for people to remember that to date no evidence has shown CWD to be any risk to humans.

There is strong evidence that abnormally shaped proteins or prions are the agent responsible for the disease. These prions accumulate in certain parts of the infected animal especially in the brain, eyes, spinal cord, lymph nodes, tonsils and spleen. Hunters are advised not to eat meat from infected deer. Also, hunters are advised to bone out their meat and not to consume those parts where prions are likely to accumulate. 
     
Both the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture are reviewing the records from the Kent County game farm and five others to trace deer that have been purchased, sold or moved by the owners in the last five years for deer and seven years for elk. Any deer that have come in contact with the positive CWD herd have been traced to their present location and those facilities have been quarantined. The 50-plus deer at the infected game farm were euthanized following the positive confirmation of CWD.
     
"Michigan's veterinarians and wildlife experts are working to complete the investigations," said Don Koivisto, Michigan's director of agriculture. "We take this disease very seriously, and we are using every resource available to implement response measures and stop the spread of this disease."
      
Michigan Big Game Specialist Rod Clute stated that all harvested deer in a 10-mile radius (9 townships) of the infected breeding farm are now required to bring their deer to a check station. The townships involved include; Tyrone, Solon, Sparta, Nelson, Alpine, Courtland, Plainfield, Cannon and Algoma. Additional check stations may be added before the Nov. 15 gun deer opener. 
     
Michigan has a voluntary registration for harvested deer. But, the state has had a program in place since 2002 in case CWD was found in the state. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and the DNR are following the steps outlined in Michigan Surveillance and Response Plan for Chronic Wasting Disease since the discovery of the infected deer. The 2002 plan included the following;
Quarantining all privately owned cervid facilities and prohibiting the movement of all deer either dead or alive until more testing is done.

The DNR is working with local landowners to collect deer from the vicinity of the infected game farm to determine if the disease is present in the wild and free-ranging deer.

One of the most important measures is the ban on feeding and baiting deer and elk in the Lower Peninsula of the state in an effort to prevent any possible spread of CWD.

Possession of any wild deer is now illegal. This is to prevent taking a sick deer from an area and trying to rehabilitate it. This has the potential to spread CWD into new areas.

A CWD surveillance zone has been established for the nine previously mentioned counties, which surround the infected Kent County breeding facility.

During the 2008 hunting season, all deer that are harvested in the CWD surveillance zone must be taken to one of the check stations in the surveillance zone.

For deer taken in the CWD zone, only boned meat, cape and clean skull plates with antlers may be taken from these nine townships.

DNR staff will collect the heads of all deer as they are brought into the check stations.
  
A healthy deer herd is of utmost importance in Michigan and all states because CWD can spread throughout a deer herd. All infected deer will eventually die. Deer are native to Michigan making it important to preserve native wildlife for future generations. Plus, a healthy deer herd is important for the hunting tradition with more than 725,000 hunters annually harvesting in excess of 450,000 deer over the last decade, while contributing $500 million dollars annually to the state's economy. Simply put, a healthy deer herd is of great importance to Michigan's economy.

For more information, visit www.michigan.gov/dnr or call Rod Clute, Michigan big game specialist, (517)-373-1263. 

-- Gary Engberg

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