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Paynesville Press - Jan. 29, 2003

CWD found in elk from Sauk Centre farm

The Minnesota Board of Animal Health announced last week that an elk from a Stearns County elk herd tested positive for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).

The animal was one of 21 elk on a farm near Sauk Centre that were quarantined and tested due to exposure to a CWD-positive elk from Aitkin County. The other 20 elk in the herd tested negative.

This discovery is Minnesota's second confirmed CWD case.

A sample of the three-year-old female elk's brain was taken last week at the University of Minnesota's Diagnostic Laboratory in St. Paul. Those samples were submitted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) in Ames, Iowa.

The Stearns County herd, along with a herd in Benton County, was quarantined after animal health officials learned that a CWD-positive male elk from Aitkin County had been on both farms. The USDA purchased the two herds and submitted the animals for testing.

Animal health officials expect results from the Benton County herd next week.

Minnesota Board of Animal Health Executive Director Bill Hartmann said the investigation will continue. "The board will now begin investigating the whereabouts of every animal that left the farm in the past five years," Hartmann said. "The board plans on testing every elk it locates."

Last August, the first confirmed case of CWD in Minnesota was detected in a male elk that died on the Aitkin County farm. State animal health officials decided to test the entire 48-animal herd because it is thought that CWD may be transmitted by animal-to-animal contact and the only way to test an animal for CWD is to obtain a brain sample.

The other 48 animals on the Aitkin County farm tested negative. Those results prompted officials to focus their investigation on the two quarantined herds that had been in contact with the CWD-positive elk.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) plans to analyze results from more than 900 brain stem samples collected from deer in three permit areas in the vicinity of the Stearns County elk farm last fall. This includes permit areas 415, 417, and 221.

Using those results, DNR officials will determine if additional samples are needed to find out if CWD has infected wild deer in the area.

To date, CWD has not been detected in Minnesota's wild deer herd. So far, 1,488 samples collected during the 2002 firearms deer season have been negative.

Results on the remainder of the approximately 4,500 samples collected are expected within weeks. So far, the DNR has received test results from 282 of 306 samples collected in area 417.

No results have been returned for permit areas 415 and 221.

"We have asked the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory to expedite testing of samples from these permit areas," said Mike DonCarlos, research manager for the DNR Division of Wildlife. "We hope to have results very soon."

CWD is a fatal brain and nervous system disease found in elk and deer in certain parts of North America. The disease is caused by an abnormally shaped protein called a prion, which can damage brain and nerve tissue. Infected animals show progressive loss of body weight with accompanying behavioral changes.

In later stages of the disease, infected animals become emaciated (thus 'wasting' disease). Other signs include staggering, consuming large amounts of water, excessive urination, and drooling.

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