Southern Alberta Hunters have noticed an increase in Chronic Wasting Disease in 2017, with several cases appearing this year among deer populations.

Director of Wildlife Policy for Alberta Matt Besko says, it's still too early to conclude reports for 2018, but last years rates of contagion may impact the current deer population if the disease continues to spread.

"We are approaching close to 300 cases a year, which is quite alarming. Once prevalence reaches 15-20 percent there's a strong probability that those deer populations will be reduced. The prevalence within areas that are already infected is approaching 10-12 percent, I think we are seeing an average (overall) of 6 percent in our deer populations."

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a transmissible illness found in various species in the deer family that is characterized by severe weight loss and is always fatal.

Other symptoms of CWD is less interaction among infected animals, tremors, repetitive walking patterns and teeth grinding.

Besko says the path of transmission involves a mutated protein known as a "prion protein".

"Chronic Wasting Disease is a prion or mutated protein, it's not a bacterial disease. I should be clear, it passes through members of the deer family to other members of the deer family. 85 percent of the cases that we do have in Alberta come from mature male deer, the disease itself is quite prolific in Southeastern parts of the province."

Researchers believe that the main method of transportation is through infected deer saliva which contain the mutated prion protein that is passed through infected grass the herd feeds on.

The disease was first identified in a captive herd of mule deer in Colorado in 1967, and has since been positively identified in various herds worldwide.

Besko notes that hunters play an important role in mitigating the spread of the disease, as well as helping provincial park staff in tracking and locating infected herds.

" Local hunters play a two-fold role. One, in terms of monitoring and surveillance. The samples that are obtained from hunters enable us to see the rates of prevalence and spread of disease across the landscape in Alberta. Secondly we can use hunters in certain wildlife management units to potentially reduce the density and reduce the probability of disease transmission on the landscape. That hasn't taken place in a formal way yet, but we are looking at a variety of tools in order to be able to incorporate measures to reduce the probability of disease transmission."

With the end of the current big game season, Besko says Alberta Parks will be collaborating with hunters to update current running totals of infection, and deliberate methods of action to protect future herds.


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