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Chronic Wasting Disease looms on Ont.’s doorstep

Chronic Wasting Disease looms on Ont.’s doorstep

Threat of brain disease entering the province a concern for wildlife

Staff Writer
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) hasn’t yet entered Ontario, however, the possibility of the fatal brain disease entering the province has heightened concerns for provincial wildlife.
CWD is “a fatal, untreatable disease of the central nervous system affecting members of the deer family (e.g., white-tailed deer, American elk, moose and woodland caribou),” an overview of the disease on the government of Ontario website says. The disease can be transferred among animals through close contact or exposure to a contaminated environment, and evidence suggests CWD can remain infectious in an environment, for example, in soil, for years.
CWD has not yet been confirmed in Ontario, though 11 cases of the disease have been confirmed on a game farm in Quebec, 15 kilometres (9.3 miles) across the border, Keith Munro, wildlife biologist from the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH), said in a CBC article yesterday.
Although the disease hasn’t yet entered the province, it is important to be vigilant, Bianca Jamieson, media relations strategist with OMAFRA, told
“OMAFRA works with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to minimize the risk of this disease entering Ontario. (The province) has an animal health surveillance system in place to detect this type of disease and we are monitoring this situation closely,” she said.
The disease has been discovered in 26 U.S. states and in three Canadian provinces, Munro said in the article. The first case of CWD entered Canada from infected game farm animals, shipped from North Dakota to Saskatchewan, he said.
CWD is a member of the transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), or prion disease family, Munro said. CWD shares commonalities with other types of TSEs, for example, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease but, at this point, it is known to specifically affect members of the deer family. 
The disease can be carried by infected animals for extended periods of time with no outward indications, Munro said. Currently, no live test exists for CWD and, to determine if an animal is infected, a sample must be taken from its brain. 
Animals infected with CWD may show some of the following symptoms, the government of Ontario website overview says:
“loss of body weight and body condition
“abnormal behaviour, such as indifference to human activity
“tremors, stumbling, lack of coordination or paralysis”
Ontario tests some hunter-killed deer for CWD. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry’s surveillance program tests samples from regions with an elevated risk of CWD, and locations are selected based on certain criteria, which can be viewed here
Munro is organizing a conference called the Conversation on CWD that will gather disease experts from across North America. Hosted by the OFAH, the event will take place on March 15-16 in Mississauga, Ont., the CBC article said.
If you suspect an animal may have CWD, contact the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry at 888-574-6656.
Updated Feb. 15, 2019
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