Pratt County is now among 21 counties in Kansas where chronic wasting disease has been confirmed in deer harvested during recent hunting seasons.
Pratt County is the latest addition to the number of counties in the state that has recorded a deer with chronic wasting disease.
Shane Hesting, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism wildlife disease specialist, said the deer was taken by a non-resident hunter who was north and east of Sawyer. The deer was taken on Dec. 1 during rifle season and was a doe over 3.5 years old. This was the first and, so far, the only CWD deer case in Pratt County, Hesting said.
In 2019, 37 deer in Kansas have tested positive for CWD. The Centers for Disease Control strongly suggests hunters get deer tested for CWD if they are taken in an area where the disease has already been reported. If the deer tests positive for CWD, both KDWPT and the CDC recommend not eating the meat, Hesting said.
“We like to err on the side of caution. We don’t recommend eating any sick wildlife,” Hesting said.
Area hunter and Pratt Community College Wildlife Operations and Outfitting Instructor Rocky Robinson and his brother Rusty both took deer in November while hunting in western Kansas. They have hunted in the area before but have never had the deer tested. Both deer looked healthy and other deer they had seen in the area also looked healthy. They had been reading about CWD and decided to get both deer were tested and both came back positive for CWD, Robinson said.
To be on the safe side, they decided to take the deer to the landfill and dispose of the meat. Rusty has family with children and they felt it was the safest decision although they didn’t want to do it.
“It’s a tough decision to take it to the landfill. It’s not something we do lightly or like to do,” Robinson said. “I wouldn’t want to feed it to my family.”
To date, no case of CWD has ever been found in humans, Robinson said.
Robinson said less than one percent of deer are tested and he would like more hunters to get their deer tested. Prior to this hunt, Rusty had shot a deer in Pratt County but didn’t have it tested. Now that a deer in Pratt County is positive, Robinson said they will test any Pratt County deer they take.
Testing is fairly easy. Testing kits can be ordered from Kansas State University that explain how to harvest a portion of the brain stem and two lymph nodes. It takes about a week to get the results, Robinson said.
They decided to quarter one deer in the field and bring the other deer home for processing. When they got the results, they decided to discard the meat.
There is no cure for CWD and it is always fatal to infected deer and elk. It is spread through body fluids. Bucks are more susceptible because during rut, they travel long distances and come in contact with many does that increases the chance of spreading the disease, Robinson said.
The disease causes a build up of protein in the brain that forms holes. A deer can live for two years without symptoms but it will eventually kill them. Late stage symptoms include droopy head, staggering, loss of appetite and lack of response to people.
Once CWD gets into an area, it’s there to stay. It can exist for decades or more and still infect healthy deer. It is a member of diseases that include scrapie in sheep and goats, mad cow disease in cattle and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in Humans, according to the KDWPT website.
Every year, KDWPT tests deer in one of five zones across Kansas. If a hunter takes a deer and wants it checked, there is no charge if the deer is in the zone being tested. The deer in Pratt County was out of the zone the hunter had to pay the $28 fee to have the deer tested at Kansas State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, Hesting said.
A hunter can call 785-532-5650 to set up an account with KSU to get deer tested. If they don’t have an account but want to have a deer tested, they can call and K-State can help them with on-site instructions.
If a deer tests positive for CWD, the hunter can leave the carcass where it was harvested or they can bag it and take it to a landfill for disposal. The hunter should contact the landfill prior to taking the deer to find out the landfill policy on accepting CWD deer carcass. If the hunter is on their own land, they can bury the carcass there. A hunter cannot bury a carcass on someone else’s land, Hesting said.
There is no cure for CWD. The only way to prevent the spread of the disease is to restrict the transport of deer and deer carcasses, especially from areas where it occurs, according to KDWPT.
So far in 2019, 360 deer have been tested with 37 positives. Deer testing started in 1996 with 28,000 tissue samples tested and 216 positives. The first positive was in Cheyenne County in 2005.
Chronic Wasting Disease has been reported in Cheyenne, Rawlins, Decatur, Norton, Phillips, Smith, Thomas, Sheridan, Gove, Rooks, Osborne, Scott, Lane, Hamilton, Haskell, Hodgeman, Ford, Edwards, Stafford, Reno, and Pratt counties, according to the KDWPT web site.