Chronic wasting disease detected in 1st Utah elk

The first case of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in an Utah elk has been confirmed by state wildlife officials.

Lymph nodes from 1,400 animals -- the bulk of them mule deer and elk, but also some moose -- were collected last fall during the hunting seasons.

Results from Utah State University were returned to Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) officials recently. Five of the mule deer samples came back as positive for CWD, a fatal and transmissible neurological disease.

One of the 300 elk samples also came back positive. None of the moose tests showed signs of CWD. The positive elk sample came from a cow elk taken in the La Sal Mountains east of Moab.

"It was not really a surprise," said Leslie McFarlane, wildlife disease specialist with the DWR. "It came from an area where we have the highest prevalence of CWD in deer in the state. Elk do not have a high prevalence of the disease."

Thirty-four of the 48 cases of CWD infected deer have come from the La Sals. Another hot spot for CWD in deer is south and east of Mount Nebo in central Utah where seven, including two this year, have originated.

McFarlane said all but one of the positive samples came from animals killed by hunters. The other was a sickly-looking deer reported by the public on the La Sals.
None of the moose samples came back positive. There was some fear that it could have spread into northern Utah after a cow moose in southwestern Wyoming showed up positive in the fall of 2008.

There have been few developments in research or preventing the spread of CWD in the last year and McFarlane said the state wildlife agency is sticking with its position on the threat to people.

"There is no connection of any kind with human health issues," she said. However, McFarlane and the agency still encourages people to avoid eating any big game animals that appear sick and to use caution when handling animals in the field.