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No Sign of Chronic Wasting Disease Found in Alaska Wildlife
Deer, Elk Tested : Vet is pleased to report no positive samples
Kristen Inbody / ADN / Kodiak Daily Mirror / December 15, 2005

Kodiak -- With the faint stench of dead animal permeating her basement laboratory, veterinarian Vicki Vanek probed an elk head for its brainstem, lymph nodes and tonsils.

Vanek pulled out the tissue to send to Colorado, where scientists will look for microscopic holes that indicate chronic wasting disease. Another set is saved for future study locally.

Kodiak, with its imported elk population, is Alaska's center of testing for chronic wasting disease, a brain-degenerative disease found in herds across the Midwest, in New York and on the Canadian prairie.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak is in its third year of testing game for the disease.

Vanek is pleased to report no positive samples so far.

"That's the No. 1 question: What are the results?" she said.

However, Vanek said the agency needs to continue testing to make sure the debilitating disease is not in Alaska.

"The more heads we can test, the better to determine we don't have it," she said. "Every single head is tremendously important."

This year, testing expanded to hunter-harvested animals in Southeast Alaska.

With no signs of sick animals and no confirmed cases in the state, Vanek said testing is mainly about confirming no Alaska animals have the disease.

A second factor is early detection.

"If it ever does get up here, we'll be on top of it," she said.

As deer season rolls on in Kodiak, Vanek reported 175 deer heads turned in. The season closes Dec. 30, at which point she hopes to be well on her way to the goal of collecting at least 500 samples over the next two years.

Vanek also dissected elk heads and netted 18 by season's end Nov. 30.

The disease causes holes to form in the animal's brain and is 100 percent fatal to infected animals.

The little-understood disease was first detected in a Colorado deer in 1967. Scientists believe it began as a mutated protein, which when spread caused other proteins to become abnormally shaped.

The disease's mode of transmission is unknown, though it is believed to spread through animal saliva, feces and urine.

Chronic wasting disease is in the same group as "mad cow" disease, transmissible spongiform encephalopathy. No cases have ever been reported of it infecting people.

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