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Canada Finds Mad Elk Disease
Has Spread To Alberta

By Kanina Holmes

WINNIPEG - Canadian food and wildlife officials were awaiting further test results yesterday after discovering an elk on an Alberta ranch with the western Canadian province's first case of chronic wasting disease, or CWD, a disorder similar to mad cow disease.
On March 26, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed that an elk on a game farm in northwestern Alberta had tested positive for the fatal neurological illness, sometimes referred to as mad deer, or mad elk, disease. The agency has quarantined the 70-member herd in which they found the infected animal. Its policy is to humanely destroy herds in which there has been a positive CWD test and the agency is trying to trace all animals either sold into or out of that Alberta elk herd within the last three years.
"I'm quite frankly anxiously awaiting the test results on all of these animals that are going to be taken out," Gerald Ollis, Alberta's chief veterinarian, told Reuters yesterday.
"I'm not particularly concerned about the fact that we have CWD at this stage of the game unless we find that we have a large number of positive animals on that farm," he added.
CWD was discovered in the neighboring Prairie province of Saskatchewan in 1996, devastating its game ranching industry, which sells deer and elk meat domestically and exports antler velvet, primarily to Asian markets.
To date, 227 animals have tested positive in 39 herds in Saskatchewan and about 7,800 animals have been euthanized.Saskatchewan also reported the first Canadian case of CWD in a wild mule deer last year. One other wild deer in the province later tested positive for CWD.Alberta established a voluntary surveillance program among elk and deer farmers in the autumn of 1996, with about 75 percent of producers on about 500 farms submitting the heads of all animals that were either slaughtered or died naturally.
Since Alberta's detection program began, more than 4,000 animals have been tested. This was the first positive test in the province."The detection of CWD in Alberta, although it's disappointing, what it does tell us is that the surveillance is working," said Ollis. But he noted that because not all producers participate in the surveillance program, there could be undetected pockets of CWD. Scientists do not know what causes CWD or how it spreads. They have found no evidence that it can be transmitted to humans or traditional livestock.
The disorder belongs to the same family of diseases as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), more commonly known as mad cow disease. A deadly human version of BSE, a new variant called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, killed several people in Britain after they ate BSE-tainted beef. CWD has been present in North American deer and elk herds for decades, but U. S. officials said recently they were puzzled by a sudden spread of the disease following reports it had been diagnosed in Colorado, the first positive tests in deer on the west side of the Rocky Mountains.

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