First case of chronic wasting disease confirmed in Arkansas

Staff Writer

The first case of chronic wasting disease has been found in Arkansas, the state Game and Fish Commission announced Tuesday.

The commission said a 2½-year-old elk killed near Pruitt on the Buffalo National River in northern Arkansas during the October hunting tested positive for the fatal disease and officials are now following control and monitoring plans that were developed in 2006 as the disease was appearing in other states.

The plans include testing samples from elk and deer that are within a 5-mile radius of where the diseased elk was taken, although there are no reliable tests for CWD while an animal is alive. A CWD management zone will be established and public meetings will be held to answer any questions.

"Although CWD is a serious threat to Arkansas's elk and white-tailed deer, we are not the first to deal with the disease," said AGFC Director Mike Knoedl. "We have learned from the experiences of 23 other states."

The disease affects animals such as elk, deer and moose, known as cervids, and there are no confirmed cases of it being transmitted from cervids to humans or to livestock, although health officials recommend that meat from infected animals not be eaten.

"As far as we know, it's not transmissible to humans at all," said Sue Weinstein, state public health veterinarian for the Arkansas Department of Health. "In other states where they have CWD and they are studying this, they have found no human disease at all."

It isn't clear how the disease reached northern Arkansas. The herd began with 112 elk relocated into Arkansas from Colorado and Nebraska between 1981 and 1985.

"(CWD) would have raised its ugly head a lot sooner than now," said wildlife ecologist Don White at the University of Arkansas Agriculture Experiment Station in Monticello. "I think that it's extremely unlikely that it came from those 112 elk."

The game and fish commission said 204 Arkansas elk have been tested for CWD since 1997 and thousands of deer have been tested since 1998 and this case is the only one to test positive.