Hunters asked to keep their heads up for wasting disease
A hunter is more likely to be struck by lightning, get bitten by a rattlesnake or win the lottery than get chronic wasting disease.It is not even known if the disease, which affects deer and elk, can possibly be contracted by humans. “The risk is remote if it’s even there,” said Dr. Jim Grady, a veterinarian for the Colorado Department of Agriculture CSU Cooperative Extension. “My personal choice on how to react to it is I’m not going to panic.”This information was shared with hunters, game packers and guides at a meeting held recently at the Garfield County Fairgrounds in Rifle.Chronic wasting disease, or CWD, is a neurological disease found in wild deer and elk herds in portions of Colorado and parts of Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska and Wisconsin, according to the Colorado Division of Wildlife.CWD attacks the brains of infected deer and elk, causing the animals to become emaciated, display abnormal behavior, lose bodily functions and die.So far, the disease has stayed mostly in the northeast part of Colorado, but some infected mule deer were found in Moffat County, and hundreds were slaughtered as a preventive measure.The mission of the meeting was to explain the disease in layman’s terms, inform hunters of the relative danger and ask for their help in testing for the disease this fall. “The DOW has prepared all year so they can test the brains of animals,” Grady said. Hunters are asked to chop off the deer or elk’s head and a portion of the neck and deliver it to a DOW drop site, set up around the state.The drop-off site for Garfield County is the DOW office in Glenwood Springs, 50633 Highway 6 & 24 in West Glenwood.Some private veterinarians will test for CWD, but it will cost more. “We want to make it as easy as possible to take your heads in,” said Steve Yamashita, DOW Grand Junction area manager. “If you have your head detached already, it makes it a lot simpler.”Once tested, results will be posted on the Division’s website: http://wildlife.state.co.us/wastingDisease/index.asp.”It should be active now, because we started collecting heads last week,” Yamashita said of the website. Hunters will only be contacted if their deer or elk tests positive for CWD. The drop off hours at the Glenwood Springs office will vary during hunting season. During the remainder of September, the office will be open for drop-offs on weekdays from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. and closed on weekends.From Oct. 13-27 and Nov. 3-15, the office will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., including weekends. In December and early January, the office will accept heads only on weekends. Those hours are from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Each test will cost the hunter $17, the cost of the test. The DOW encourages testing so they can determine if the disease has spread and to give those eating the meat peace of mind. “If it comes in positive, the license fee will be refunded,” Grady said, adding that the DOW would even reimburse the cost of having an animal processed if the animal tests positive. But the first 7,500 tests will be delayed because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is requiring that two tests be done on each specimen to determine if a new, faster test is accurate, said Dr. Darrel Schweitzer, a veterinarian with the CSU Western Slope Animal Diagnostic Laboratory. “We’re not going to have the rapid turnaround for the first 7,500 tests,” Schweitzer said. “Unfortunately there’s nothing we can do about that.”If the new testing procedure is approved, the tests will come back much faster. “We’re not trying to falsely reassure you, but again we haven’t found any link with humans,” Grady said, pointing out that most hunting injuries come in the form of heart attacks, all-terrain vehicle crashes, gunshot wounds and other minor injuries. “On a relative basis, take care of your heart, exercise, wear a helmet if you ride an ATV and don’t be dumb,” Grady said.
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