LEWISTON – Idaho Fish and Game official’s efforts to measure the intensity of the chronic wasting disease outbreak in the state is on pause pending laboratory testing results from hundreds of outstanding samples.
Emergency hunts designed to collect tissue samples for testing ended Dec. 19 and 20. They were implemented earlier this month after two mule deer tested positive for the illness in October – marking the first time the disease has been found in Idaho.
The hunts yielded 233 samples, well short of the 750 that Fish and Game officials hoped to gather. But the agency also collected more than 300 samples from the fall hunting season before the start of the emergency hunts.
Idaho Fish and Game officials received notice on Wednesday that two white-tailed deer bucks from the Slate Creek area north of Riggins have tested positive for chronic wasting disease. These are the third and fourth deer that have tested positive for CWD in the area, according to an agency news release.
Fish and Game Director Ed Schriever said the agency and its governing commission will base its next steps on the outcome of the testing.
So far, 288 samples of the 561 collected have been processed and the only positive results are the original two submitted by mule deer hunters in October. The rest have been negative for the presence of CWD, which is an always fatal degenerative neurological disease affecting deer, elk and moose.
Schriever said 213 samples were collected from Game Management Unit 14, which is considered the epicenter of the outbreak since that is where the original positive results came. Of those, 110 samples have tested negative and 103 are pending.
“I think what happens next is going to be informed by the results and I’m pretty comfortable to say if they all come back negative we are going to hold pat on the number of samples we have and the ability to say what we can from there,” Schriever said.
If some of the pending results come back positive, Schriever said whether more samples are sought will likely hinge on factors such as the number and the location of the positive tests. He also said the agency would consult the Idaho Fish and Game Commission even though the seven-member board gave him authority last month to implement surveillance hunts. It’s expected to be weeks before all the test results are in.
“We are not going to have the information to take the next step until after the first of the year,” he said.
The commission established a Chronic Wasting Disease Management Zone that encompasses Unit 14, which stretches from about Cottonwood to Riggins, and Unit 15 along the South Fork of the Clearwater River. Rules prevent hunters from removing carcasses containing brain or spinal tissue of deer, elk and moose taken in the zone. The rules also apply to those who salvage road-killed animals.
Chronic wasting disease is similar to mad cow disease in cattle, scrapie in sheep and Jakob Creutzfeldt disease in people. There are no known cases of CWD jumping from deer to humans. Even so, the Center For Disease Control and Prevention recommends against consuming meat from infected animals.
The disease is caused by misfolded proteins called prions that are shed by the animals and can persist for months and even years in the environment.
CWD has not been confirmed in Washington, but Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists started surveying for the disease this fall for the first time in a decade. They didn’t get nearly as many samples as they’d hoped for or needed to confidently predict the likelihood of the disease.
“We are trying to encourage people who salvage road-killed deer to have them tested. We ran some numbers and found that a decent number of deer are being salvaged in the testing area but not being tested,” WDFW spokeswoman Staci Lehman said.
Eli Francovich contributed to this report.
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