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First cases of fatal wildlife disease detected in B.C.

Two samples from deer near Cranbrook test positive for Chronic Wasting Disease
The first two cases of Chronic Wasting Disease in B.C. have been detected near Cranbrook. Photo Jill Hayward for Black Press Media

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has been detected in deer south of Cranbrook, marking the first known cases of the condition in the province, according to the B.C. Wildlife Federation.

“We have been watching CWD spread province to province, state to state for at least 20 years, so this is terrible news for British Columbians,” said Jesse Zeman, Executive Director of the B.C. Wildlife Federation. “CWD is devastating to cervid populations. Continued vigilance and testing are key to organizing preventative measures.”

The first sample was taken by a hunter from a male mule deer that appeared to be healthy, however, testing by the B.C. CWD Program confirmed the presence of the disease.

The second positive test result came from a road-kill female whitetail deer that was confirmed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency reference laboratory on Jan. 31, 2024.

According to a bulletin issued by the B.C. government, the provincial wildlife veterinarian is leading the response with support and input from the chronic wasting disease advisory committee and regional working groups, which include First Nations, stakeholders, experts on chronic wasting disease and other partners.

Early response activities will be conducted within a 10-kilometre area of the confirmed cases, focusing on confirming details associated with the discovery, as well as minimizing disease transmission and spread.

The province advises that people in the initial response area should remain attentive for further direction, including deer feeding in the area and the handling of carcasses.

CWD affects cervids, such as deer, moose, elk, and caribou, and is a condition of the central nervous system caused by infectious agents called prions, which kill cells in the brain as they accumulate and lead to neurological disease.

Prions also accumulate in other tissues and may be shed by the infected animal into water or on plants and bedding through saliva, urine and feces. It is 100 per cent fatal with no known treatment. However it is not known to affect humans or livestock.

“We have failed our wildlife populations once again by underfunding the resources needed to manage them for the past 50 years,” said Steve Hamilton, BCWF Advocacy coordinator. “Politicians should take this as a reminder that their actions and policies matter and we will be calling for much, much better for our wildlife in the upcoming elections.”

CWD has been detected in other Canadian provinces such as Alberta and Saskatchewan, as well as into the Pacific northwest states such as Idaho and Montana. Since 2002, B.C. has conducted a surveillance and response program for chronic wasting disease to lessen the risk of the disease spreading into the province.

Trevor Crawley

About the Author: Trevor Crawley

Trevor Crawley has been a reporter with the Cranbrook Townsman and Black Press in various roles since 2011.
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