Province records first chronic wasting disease case

·4 min read

The first documented case of chronic wasting disease in Manitoba has been discovered.

The case was first discovered by staff in the surveillance zone along the Saskatchewan border, according to Manitoba Wildlife and Fisheries Branch director Rob Olson. The animal, located west of Dropmore, had shown signs of the disease.

The male mule deer was observed to be unhealthy and was euthanized in western Manitoba, near Lake of the Prairies, on Oct. 14.

“It’s not surprising it’s a mule deer, and it’s not surprising it’s a mule deer buck. Likely male mule deer are the most susceptible,” Olson said. “We just know that they’re more vulnerable to it.”

The case has been defined as “significant” by the province.

There are various measures in place to prevent the disease from spreading into Manitoba, including restricting the movement of live deer or hunting kills into the province. However, Olson said, it remains difficult to defend hundreds of miles of the border.

The department will increase sampling in the area and along the Saskatchewan border to determine the extent of infection in deer populations.

To contain the spread of chronic wasting disease in Manitoba, a small no-hunting zone around the area of discovery has been proposed to prevent hunters from inadvertently spreading the disease via carcasses.

Monday marks the opening of the general rifle deer season in Manitoba, Olson said. It’s unfortunate timing to impose the no-hunting zone, but it’s imperative to stop the spread of the disease and close off a small section of land near the Saskatchewan border. The closure will not affect the entirety of Game Hunting Area 22 and will instead focus on a tight area around Lake of the Prairies.

The department has been monitoring for the potential spread of chronic wasting disease into Manitoba for many years. Hunters accessing the area near the Saskatchewan border are required to submit samples of any wild animal they kill. He added page 60 of “The Manitoba Hunting Guide” is a great resource for hunters and shows the locations of depots for samples.

“We want people to take it seriously and … help us. Be our eyes on the ground, tell us if you see animals that are not acting right,” Olson said. “We want hunters to help by participating in the mandatory sample submission. Hunters participating is huge, and we hope they take it seriously and help us.”

Olson said his team was not surprised to see the arrival of chronic wasting disease in Manitoba because it has been spreading across the Prairie provinces.

“They’re wild animals — they didn’t get the memo they’re not supposed to come here,” Olson said.

Chronic wasting disease comes from the family of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. It is a prion disease, meaning it is a misshapen protein causing a progressive neurological disease.

“It is highly contagious, but it is species-specific. This is one specific to deer families — so mule deer, white-tailed deer, moose, elk and caribou. It can infect all of them,” Olson said. “It is always fatal.”

During the early stages of infection, signs might not be visible in the wild animal but as the disease progresses, deer will experience emaciation, erratic behaviour, scruffy fur, drooling, a drooping head and other symptoms.

“They just look unhealthy and act odd,” Olson said.

While chronic wasting disease is in the same family as mad cow disease, Olson said, it remains specific to deer and will not spread to livestock. He added to date it has never been contracted by a human.

“The biggest risk here is for the deer,” Olson said. “It greatly affects their survival.”

The disease was first found in Colorado in 1967. Over the last five decades, the state has seen the average survival rate per year of deer drop from 80 per cent in healthy animals to about 50 per cent in animals with the disease.

Chronic wasting disease has been active in Saskatchewan since the 1980s and has been progressively spreading eastward, Olson said. The disease has now become an endemic largely located in the western half of the province.

His team has been participating in national chronic wasting disease working groups and remain in close contact with Alberta, Saskatchewan, American states and international partners that have been combating it for decades.

“We’re constantly sharing science and best practices to try and battle it,” Olson said. “The frustrating thing for all the jurisdictions is it’s hard to stop. It’s really, really, really contagious within the deer.”

They have learned from other jurisdictions that when a case occurs, a key approach is moving quickly to contain the spread.

If anyone witnesses what they suspect to be chronic wasting disease, they are encouraged to call their local district office and report it.

“We’re trying to contain it, and we need folks’ help,” Olson said.


» Twitter: @The_ChelseaKemp

Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun

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