Friday, May 09, 2008

WEST VIRGINIA NEWS: More CWD Appears in Hampshire County

BECKLEY, W.Va. — Hampshire County remains an enigma to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources in its campaign to track down and understand why Chronic Wasting Disease is haunting deer in that popular hunting region.

Now that 11 more deer the DNR killed this spring have tested positive, the mystery has only deepened.

All told, 31 deer now have been afflicted with the ailment, a fatal neurological disorder found in deer and elk. To date, the only affected deer have turned up in Hampshire — a fact that puzzles the DNR’s assistant wildlife chief, Paul Johansen.

“That’s the $64,000 question,” he said Thursday.

“I’ve stayed up nights pondering that question. Why did it show up? How did it get here? The reality is we may never know. I guess the important thing is to make sure we do engage our management plan to try to put in place appropriate management strategies to try to address the disease.”

While not harmful to humans, cattle or other domestic animals, CWD is a death sentence to any deer or elk that contracts it.

Some hunter-harvested deer tested positive last fall in Hampshire, but so far, not a single CWD-infected whitetail has been discovered outside that county.

“We’re pleased to see from a distribution standpoint, looking at the landscape, all of those positives were pretty tightly confined to that geographic area around Slanesville, where the original index animal was,” Johansen said.

“We did not pick up any additional positives in that Yellow Springs area.”

For the past few years, the DNR has performed a statewide surveillance program but hasn’t found any CWD outside a small pocket of Hampshire, he said.

In fact, the original index animal surfaced Sept. 2, 2005, as part of the DNR’s roadkill surveillance, Johansen pointed out.

Besides roadkill vigilance, the DNR looks for the disease in targeted areas, seeking out any animals that exhibit the clinical signs of it.

“We try to get our hands on those as well,” he said.

Scientists believe the disorder is caused by abnormal, proteinaceous particles known as prions engaged in a slow assault of the brain, causing deer and elk to progressively become emaciated, display bizarre behavior and invariably die.

DNR Director Frank Jezioro said in a statement from his office that “some of the best wildlife biologists and veterinarians in the world” are working on CWD, including those at the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study in Athens, Ga.

“Landowner and hunter cooperation throughout this entire CWD surveillance effort in Hampshire County has been excellent,” he said.

“As we strive to meet this wildlife disease challenge and implement appropriate management strategies, the continued support and involvement of landowners and hunters will be essential.”


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