LITTLE ROCK – The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has received 23 additional confirmed cases of chronic wasting disease among deer and elk in northern Arkansas, which brings the total to 79.
Confirmation of the first positive CWD sample came Feb. 23 from a cow elk near Pruitt. Samples were tested at the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Madison, and verified by the National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa.
At this point, three of the 79 positive samples have come from elk in Newton County. Positive CWD samples include 74 deer from Newton County and two deer in Boone County. A total of 327 samples have been taken since the cow elk tested positive near Pruitt.
The agency's first phase of CWD surveillance focused on determining the disease prevalence rate in the CWD focal area of Newton County. Some samples from the focal area have yet to be tested, so the exact prevalence rate has not been calculated, according to Dick Baxter, an assistant chief in the AGFC Wildlife Management Division.
"At this time, 61 out of the 266 random samples taken by the AGFC from the focal area have tested positive," Baxter said. "That's a prevalence rate of 22 percent from the results we've received."
The final results from the AGFC's random sampling phase of the focal area may be completed later this week or early next week, but biologists have confirmed a higher prevalence of CWD than anticipated.
The second phase of CWD surveillance is planned to continue through May 20 and is designed to determine spatial distribution of the disease. AGFC has begun taking samples from sick or dead deer reported throughout the state. A primary focus will be on road-kill animals. According to AGFC biologists, samples taken from road kills have a greater likelihood of testing positive than random samples from healthy animals.
The presence of CWD can be determined only within a few days of an animal's death, so the agency is asking that the public report dead deer or elk as quickly as possible. Any person witnessing a sick or dead deer or elk should contact the AGFC's radio room at 800-482-9262. Operators are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
CWD is a neurological disease that's part of a group of diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. Once in a host's body, prions transform normal cellular protein into abnormal shapes that accumulate until the cell ceases to function. As the brains of infected animals degenerate, they lose weight, lose their appetite and develop an insatiable thirst. They tend to stay away from herds, walk in patterns, carry their head low, salivate and grind their teeth.
To keep the public informed on the status of CWD in Arkansas, a May 19 public meeting has been scheduled at the Carroll Electric Co-op building in Jasper. The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. The agenda for the meeting includes providing updated CWD results and potential regulation proposals specific to CWD management.