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Here's how chronic wasting disease is affecting deer, elk in western Canada

A file image of a white-tailed deer. (Photo by: Aaron J Hill/Pexels) A file image of a white-tailed deer. (Photo by: Aaron J Hill/Pexels)

A deadly disease that has affected deer and elk in Alberta and Saskatchewan was recently detected in southeast British Columbia.

Chronic wasting disease is a neurological condition that affects deer, moose, elk and caribou, likely resulting in death.

Health Canada recommends that people don’t eat “meat or other parts” of any animal that is infected with chronic wasting disease.

“Importantly, for most of the infection – sort of life span of the disease – it's not really detectable in any obvious ways from living animals out in the field, it's just kind of the last little bit right before they die that they become very overly symptomatic and their true wasting kind of starts to take hold,” said Everett Hanna, an instructor in the School of Environmental Sciences at Lethbridge College.

Chronic wasting disease is fatal and incurable.

“It's a surveillance thing,” Hanna explained. “There's not much we can do because it’s latent and the fact that it hides before it shows means we couldn't even go out and remove those that are sick. Even if we capture them and test them, it's destructive sampling only. It's really a quagmire of a disease to deal with.”

Two samples were collected south of Cranbrook, B.C., with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirming the disease on Jan. 31.

“In the late stages, they will start to demonstrate symptoms typical of these neurological diseases, they are going to have poor coordination, stumbling, trembling, sometimes described as drooling,” said Cait Nelson, a wildlife health biologist with the Government of British Columbia.

There is no evidence the disease can be transmitted to humans.

While new to B.C., the disease has been detected in other provinces over the past year, affecting herds of elk and white-tailed deer in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

“Our best understanding is that it originated in Colorado and moved north to Saskatchewan, kind of as ground zero in Canada and has spread west and east into the eastern part of North America,” Hanna said.

“It was just a matter of time until it was detected in B.C.”

The B.C. government said it’s launching an early response targeting a 10-kilometre radius from the confirmed cases that will focus on gathering details and minimizing potential transmission.

The B.C. Wildlife Federation says information gathering is largely reliant on hunters.

“You would take the head of the animal and drop it off at storage area which are usually deep freezes that the BC Wildlife Federation or our members, clubs have paid for and then it goes off for testing,” said Jesse Zeman, executive director of the federation.

Anyone who spots an animal showing symptoms is asked to contact the Report All Poachers and Polluters hotline at 1-877-952-7277.

With files from CTV News Vancouver Top Stories

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