Manitoba reports first chronic wasting disease case; bans hunting where animal found

Paul Chiasson / The Canadian Press

Officials in Manitoba are reporting what they say is the province’s first case of chronic wasting disease, a nervous system disorder that affects large game animals.

The province says in a news release that on Oct. 14, as part of its wildlife health surveillance program, a male mule deer was observed to be unhealthy and was euthanized in western Manitoba, near Lake of the Prairies.

Testing found the animal to have chronic wasting disease, the release says, adding it’s the first time it’s been found in Manitoba.

The province is immediately implementing a ban on hunting deer, moose, caribou and elk in the area to ensure the disease is not spread through the transport of a diseased carcass.

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Chronic wasting disease, or CWD, infects animals like deer, moose and caribou and an afflicted animal can appear normal for years until it begins to lose weight and co-ordination before dying.

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It was first found in Canada in 1996, and since then, it has appeared in deer and elk in Saskatchewan, Alberta and Quebec.

“The province has immediately begun to plan for additional CWD surveillance actions in the area surrounding this finding and has reached out to multiple stakeholders, First Nations, Metis and other groups who need to be aware,” the provincial news release stated.

“The province will need the full co-operation of the public, including hunters, producers and land-owners to ensure this disease is contained or even eradicated from the area.”

The release notes there is no indication of any connection to farmed elk populations at this time.

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Like mad cow disease or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans, CWD is caused by prions — misshapen proteins that can persist in the environment for up to a decade.

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In 2019, Alberta found 11 per cent of deer and elk submitted by hunters tested positive, up from seven per cent in previous years. It was also found in moose for the first time.

To keep tainted meat out of the food supply, Saskatchewan and Alberta require deer and elk farmers to test every animal that dies on their farms, including slaughtered animals. If the disease is found on an Alberta farm, the herd is destroyed and the farmer is prohibited from restocking with animals susceptible to it.

There have been no cases of cattle catching the disease from wild animals.

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The Manitoba news release notes the province “has had very rigorous reporting and testing requirements for CWD,” which it says include making it illegal to bring certain unprocessed meat into Manitoba.

It also notes the elk farming industry has ongoing CWD surveillance, and there have been no reported cases in farmed animals in Manitoba.

The boundaries of the hunting ban where the infected mule deer was found are still being determined, the province said.

It said that while CWD is not known as a human health risk, meat from a CWD infected animal is not recommended for consumption and hunters in areas where the disease has been found should practice safe carcass handling protocols.

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