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Chronic Waste Disease rears its Head in Manitoba

Manitoba is reporting its first case of chronic wasting disease, a neurological disease that has spread through deer, elk and moose across Alberta and Saskatchewan over the past 20 years.

Manitoba has restricted hunting along the Saskatchewan border in an area from Roblin to Asessippi Provincial Park, following the discovery of the positive case in a mule deer near Lake of the Prairies last month.

“We had a standing plan and suspected this day would come,” said Rob Olson, director of Manitoba’s wildlife enforcement branch.

Olson said Manitoba has opened an incident command centre and has undertaken an aerial survey of deer, moose and elk in the areas surround Lake of the Prairies.

“Reducing population density of cervids [deer, elk and moose] in the infected zone is a given. I think that’s going to have to happen,” said Olson.

He said wildlife officials will be sampling cervids in the area of the first case to determine how widespread the disease may be in the region to determine the size of the herd reduction that could be required to stem the spread.

The effort will require help, said Olson. “We have to engage hunters, local landowners, producers, reeves, First Nations, Metis – you’ve got to include everybody. You have to bring everybody into the challenge and you have to create that s

ense of a common enemy here. It’s to everybody’s benefit to stop it from spreading.”

The province’s first case of CWD comes after Alberta recorded more than 900 cases last year and Saskatchewan saw more than 450 positive results in 2020. The disease is found primarily in mule deer and to a lesser extent, among white-tailed deer, moose and elk.

CWD was first detected in Saskatchewan in wild deer populations in 2000 and Alberta in 2005.

Judd Aiken, CWD researcher at the University of Alberta’s Centre for Prions and Protein Folding Diseases, said he expects more cases to be found in Manitoba.

“Whenever you have a positive, the disease has spread further than that,” said Aiken. Isolating specific cases in a cervid population with low infection rates can be difficult, he said, which can exacerbate the problem because of the lengthy incubation period of CWD before symptoms are seen in animals.

The deadly and infectious disease still being kept at bay is still being kept at bay in the Peace Region in north-eastern B.C.

“The closest cases we know of are near Edmonton. It’s a little ways away, but if you look at maps of CWD, every year it expands further,” says Brian Paterson, the local co-ordinator in charge of surveillance for the disease in the region. "It’s one of things where it’s not right here, but a lot of people don’t think it’s that important for them to participate.”

“The message I’d say to those people, is that if we’re not able to get samples, then we won’t have the confidence to say that it is or isn’t here,” Paterson said.

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