starving deer standing beside a fence.

Chronic Wasting Disease reported in the Kootenay Region

On January 31, 2024, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed that two cases of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) have been found south of Cranbrook, in the Kootenays. ‘The first sample came from a ‘harvested’ adult male mule deer and the second from a white-tailed doe that was struck on the road. 

CWD is a highly infectious and fatal disease, which the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention states, “affects many different species of hoofed animals including North American elk or wapiti, red deer, mule deer, black-tailed deer, white-tailed deer, sika deer, reindeer, and moose.”

This is the first report of CWD west of the Rocky Mountains in Canada or the United States.  

While they are on the list of vulnerable species, black-tailed deer are native to the West Coast (from Alaska to California) and not the previously infected states or provinces.

Black-tailed deer are believed to have pushed north from Washington state into British Columbia at the close of the last Ice Age. They are primarily found in areas where the climate is mild, like Vancouver Island, smaller islands in the Salish Sea and the Sechelt Peninsula. Their numbers decrease in areas with heavy snowfalls.   

There have been no reports of CWD among the black-tailed deer found on Cortes, and Quadra Islands, or anywhere else in the Greater Campbell River Area. The only British Columbian report of CWD is from other deer species in Cranbrook, 1,000 km (as the crow flies) to the east.  

There have been concerns about CWD spreading to humans, but the BC Centre for Disease points out “There is no direct evidence that the disease can be transmitted to humans and there have been no reports of cases of disease in humans.”

They ask that “anyone observing a deer, elk, moose, or caribou in BC exhibiting the symptoms of CWD – thin, drooling, poor coordination, stumbling, or generally sick with no obvious reason – are asked to report it to the 24/7 Report All Poachers and Polluters (RAPP) Line at 1-877-952-7277 or Provincial Wildlife Health Program at 250-751-3219.”

According to Health Canada, “The disease cannot reliably be detected in animals under 12 months of age, and there is no test available to certify that food or other consumable products (for example antler velvet) are completely free from CWD prions.”

“Some infected animals may appear healthy until their sudden death,”  and most are 3-4 years old before the disease is detected.

There is no cure or vaccine for CWD. 

Hunting is a traditional practice among First Nations.

Indigenous Services Canada advises, “Deer, elk, caribou and moose meat is safe to eat and most body parts are safe to use. However, do not handle or eat any part of an animal that looks sick, has died from unknown causes, or has tested positive for CWD.”  

All hunters are advised to, ‘check with your provincial or territorial wildlife authority to see if CWD has been found in the area’ and see if ‘testing is available or required.’

 CWD was first discovered in a Colorado wildlife research facility in 1967 and has spread to 32 American states and five Canadian provinces

The first Canadian report was from a Saskatchewan elk farm in 1996. It is believed to have been introduced by an infected elk from South Dakota. CWD is mostly found in Alberta and Saskatchewan, but it has been detected among wild deer in British Columbia and Manitoba, as well as a red deer farm in Quebec. 

Top image credit: Deer exhibiting visible signs of chronic wasting disease – Photo by Terry Kreeger Wyoming Game and Fish and Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance

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