Chronic wasting disease has surfaced in south-central Kansas for the first time, after being detected in a deer in Sumner County, state wildlife officials said Wednesday.
Shane Hesting, wildlife disease coordinator for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, said the deer was a yearling whitetail doe that was killed by a hunter last season.
CWD is a fatal disease that can affect all members of the deer family, including elk, moose, whitetail and mule deer.
Though it’s closely related to mad cow disease, there’s no proof it can jump to other kinds of animals, or humans, said Lloyd Fox, Wildlife and Parks’ big-game program coordinator.
According to lab results made public Wednesday, nine deer tested positive for the disease out of more than 2,400 Kansas samples sent for testing last year. Six of the cases were in northwest Kansas. First-ever cases were reported in Ford, Stafford and Sumner counties.
CWD was first diagnosed along the Wyoming-Colorado state line in the 1960s, but it’s become more widespread within the past 15 years. It is now found in at least 19 states and two Canadian provinces.
It’s migrated as far east as New York and West Virginia. Missouri found its first cases in wild deer last year, believed to have been transmitted there by a captive deer.
Kansas’ first case was in a captive elk in Harper County in 2001. The first wild deer with confirmed CWD was in Cheyenne County, in extreme northwest Kansas, in 2005.
A total of 49 deer have tested positive for the disease since testing began in 1996. Hesting said about 23,500 deer have been tested through those years.
Most samples were gathered from deer shot by hunters, though Wildlife and Parks has also taken samples from roadkills and sick deer that had to be destroyed.
Fox said Sumner County has accounted for hundreds of samples through the years.
Until recently the disease had shown a steady spread from the first positive in Cheyenne County, moving a county or two to the east and south every year. Deer normally contract it from contact with infected deer.
The biologists aren’t sure why the disease showed up in three areas at least 100 miles from previously confirmed cases last year.
Fox said research done on northwest Kansas deer several decades ago showed that they’re extremely mobile, often moving 50 or more miles. It’s also possible an area hunter shot a deer in northwest Kansas, then brought the carcass home and disposed of the offal locally.
CWD is primarily held within a deer’s brain and spinal area. Hunters are advised to avoid contact with those areas when field-dressing or processing deer.
Hunters are advised not to eat deer they know have tested positive for CWD, but Fox said only a small portion of the population gets sampled annually.
“We know we’ve had people eat deer with CWD,” he said.
Fox also said six years of the disease hasn’t deterred people from hunting or eating venison in northwest Kansas.
“The hunters tend to get kind of blase about it once it’s been there for so long,” he said. “People make their own decisions, but know CWD hasn’t been found in humans.”
Fox said hunters can have a veterinarian or Wildlife and Parks biologist take samples from deer they shoot, and then ship them to Kansas State University for testing. The school charges about $23 for testing, plus shipping and veterinarian charges.
The public is asked to report all sick-acting animals, especially deer, to Wildlife and Parks at 620-342-0658.
CWD symptoms include deer being non-responsive, unable to stand, run or walk. Fox cautioned that other diseases carry similar symptoms.