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Deer breeders welcome news that Kent County chronic wasting case was isolated
Posted by Howard Meyerson | The Grand Rapids Press September 04, 2008 08:00AM
Press File PhotoFall is prime time for deer farm owners who sell breeding bucks and does.

GRAND RAPIDS -- Test results on more than 50 deer killed and taken off a northern Kent County deer breeding farm last week all have come back negative for chronic wasting disease, Michigan Department of Agriculture officials said Wednesday.

That finding means only one deer, a 3-year-old doe, was found to be infected with the fatal neurological disease. Officials are waiting for test results on four other deer taken off two deer farms, in Osceola and Montcalm counties. Both were breeding facilities that received deer from the Kent County farm, which has not been identified.

"It's a relief that we don't have 40 that are positive," said Steve Halstead, the state veterinarian. "That (result) would suggest that anything that moved out of that herd would be positive."

Deer breeders also are relieved. A negative test means the MDA can start to selectively lift the quarantine imposed on 559 deer farms last week. The quarantine was put in place to stop deer from moving between facilities, possibly spreading the disease.

"This is very good news," said Alex Draper, president of the Michigan Deer and Elk Association, an organization of deer breeders. "I (had) sent an e-mail telling them that the panic level (among breeders) is going up by the hour."

Fall is prime time for deer farm owners who sell breeding bucks and does. The state quarantine prohibited any animals from coming to or leaving the farms, effectively halting their business.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture review of the captive deer trade in Michigan shows there are 26,000 privately owned deer. That herd is valued at $53.8 million, Halstead said.

Negative test results for CWD in the last four deer could mean some quarantines will be lifted starting next week. Agriculture officials are working up the details for how that would happen.

"More positive animals might drag things out," Halstead said. "But if not, we will begin selectively releasing the quarantine to get people back in business."

How just one deer got infected remains a question. Numerous theories are being investigated. Those include the possibility of fenceline contact with an outside deer, said Halstead, who thinks that is unlikely. No sign of the disease has so far show up in the wild whitetail population.

"Another possibility is illegal movement of deer with CWD from another state. We don't have evidence, but we are looking into that," Halstead said.

A rare but possible spontaneous occurrence also has not been ruled out. CWD belongs to a class of diseases called spongiform encephalopathies. Species specific forms of the disease are known to occur spontaneously.

"We know Creutzfeldt-Jakob occurs in one in a million people," Halstead said. "It just develops. And that's presumed to happen with Mad Cow Disease with cattle and Scrapie with sheep. We can make the assumption that it also occurs spontaneously in deer.

Another avenue of investigation, he said, is into deer breeders who do taxidermy. A CWD incident occurred in New York state three years ago after a deer breeder and rehabilitator was found to have a CWD-infected deer.

He was known to have raised his fawns in his taxidermy shop where he worked on a CWD-infected deer shot in another state. The skull and hide scrapings from the shop also were spread on the grounds.

"It was the only positive case in New York state," Halstead said.
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