The BC government is warning about a potential spread of a deadly deer infection, called chronic wasting disease, into the province and is calling on hunters in the Peace and East Kootenay regions to help scientists in monitoring the province’s deer population.
“The disease is widespread in Alberta and is moving west toward the B.C. border, although biologists have yet to find an infected animal in this province,” states the government release, which encourages hunters to bring in their deer, moose and elk heads for testing at various sites around the province.
Chronic wasting disease is a degenerative and fatal brain disease found in ungulates like elk, mule deer and white-tailed deer, belonging to the Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE) group of diseases such as Scrapie in sheep and goats and Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle. Unlike BSE – also known as mad cow disease – which can be transmitted to humans as a variant known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, chronic wasting disease has not been shown to affect either humans or cattle, though the World Health Organization cautions against eating meat from infected animals.
So far only identified in Saskatchewan and Alberta, the disease is thought to have arrived in Canada by game-farmed elk brought up from the United States and was first discovered in wild deer in Saskatchewan in 2001. Last year, testing by Alberta Fish and Wildlife found chronic wasting disease in 2.4 per cent of ungulates submitted by hunters and landowners, which represents a year-on-year increase during the past decade. Provincial authorities reported one mule deer buck with chronic wasting disease found on the northern edge of the Battle River watershed about 30 km southeast of Edmonton and approximately 100 km further west than any previously known cases.
The westward expansion of chronic wasting disease has caught the eye of BC wildlife officials who say that early detection along with accurate harvest location information will be key to managing and containing any potential spread. As the most likely method of transmission into the province would be importation by humans, the province has created a new regulation restricting the import of so-called “risky materials” from animals killed in Alberta and Saskatchewan -body parts such as the brain, spinal cord, eyes, lymph nodes and spleen. “If you hunt outside of BC you need to understand the risks associated with bringing a potentially infected carcass back with you,” reads a statement.
In 2013, the federal government shifted its strategy away from investigating ways to eradicate chronic wasting disease in Canada, putting more resources towards prevention and containment in recognition of the disease’s continued prevalence across Saskatchewan and Alberta. “We have to realize that we may not be able to eradicate this disease currently from Canada,” said Penny Greenwood, national manager of domestic disease control for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. “This is a disease that is now established in wildlife.” In March of 2013 the federal government closed its PrioNet Canada program which had been conducting research on chronic wasting disease and BSE since 2005.