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Alta. program seen limiting CWD spread

Alberta’s control program for chronic wasting disease (CWD) seems to be having an effect in limiting its further spread, the province said Tuesday.

The provincial sustainable resource development department reported Tuesday that it has found 24 new cases of CWD in over 8,500 hunted and “removed” deer through its control programs and through submissions of deer heads by hunters.

The department ran targeted control programs in specific areas along Alberta’s eastern border with Saskatchewan, in which it removed and tested 3,406 wild deer and found 15 mule deer and two white-tailed deer with CWD.

During the province’s most recent deer season, hunters in the designated areas submitted their deer heads for testing as the province requires. Of 5,170 submitted, six mule deer and one white-tailed deer tested positive for CWD, the province said.

The latest cases bring Alberta’s confirmed total to 53 cases of CWD in wild deer since 2005. Of those, one was found sick, 12 were collected by hunters and 40 were collected during control programs.

Alberta hunters and landowners along the Saskatchewan border are “important players” in chronic wasting disease management, the Alberta government wrote in a release Tuesday. “The primary goal is to decrease the overabundant deer populations in high risk areas. All hunters and landowners are encouraged to take full advantage of hunting opportunities throughout the border area for 2008-09.”

“Serious implications”

“We know the work we are doing to manage this disease is hard on staff and the communities, but it is imperative that we continue to work together on chronic wasting disease,” said Ted Morton, Alberta’s minister of sustainable resource development, in the release.

“We have seen this disease result in serious environmental and economic implications in the U.S., and we want to prevent this from happening in Alberta.”

CWD is found in three isolated geographic areas of Saskatchewan’s northeast, northwest and southwest. The extent of infection in wild Saskatchewan deer is “not completely understood,” the Saskatchewan government wrote in a fact sheet in April.

According to the Saskatchewan environment department, CWD was unintentionally introduced into farmed elk population taken from South Dakota and has since been introduced to Saskatchewan, Alberta and Korea. The economics of trade in live elk and their products, such as antler velvet, have been seriously affected.

Because CWD belongs to the group of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy diseases along with BSE in cattle, scrapie in sheep and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans, the association has led to possible public health concerns — although there remains no scientific evidence that CWD can infect humans.

The disease can be transmitted from one animal to another, mainly through contaminated saliva or contaminated feed and water, and infectious material can survive in the environment for an unknown period — at least three years, the Saskatchewan government said.

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