Thunder Bay

Fatal brain disease for deer, moose at Ontario's door step, says biologist

A biologist with Ontario's largest hunting group says the threat of chronic wasting disease coming to Ontario is a concern for everyone who cares about wildlife.

11 cases of the brain disease CWD found in Quebec game farm

Signs of CWD, as shown by this elk, include weight loss, reluctance to move, excessive salivation and lethargy. (Wyoming Game and Fish Department)

A biologist with Ontario's largest hunting group says the threat of chronic wasting disease (CWD) coming to Ontario is a concern for everyone who cares about wildlife.

Keith Munro works for the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH), in Peterborough,Ontario.

He said the progressive nervous system disease is known to be fatal to moose, deer, elk and caribou.

"Chronic wasting disease is one of these diseases that specifically effects members of the deer family," he said. "It's highly infectious, incurable and 100% fatal."

Munro said the disease has been found in 26 U.S. states, and in 3 provinces.

He said Ontario is still clear of the disease, but the possibility of CWD coming to the province is real.

Chronic Wasting Disease is fatal to cervids, including whitetail deer. (Mitchell Kincaid Cook)

"Recently a red deer farm located just 15 km across the border with Quebec, tested positive for it, " said Munro. "And at last count they were up to 11 confirmed cases on this farm. So we don't have it in the province, but it's right next door in Quebec."

Munro said chronic wasting disease belongs to the family of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), or prion disease. He said CWD shares features with other TSEs, such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy - or mad cow - in cattle and scrapie in sheep, but is only known at this time to naturally affect members of the deer family.

"One big difference between mad cow and chronic wasting disease is mad cow did jump to humans," said Munro. "There is no direct scientific evidence that chronic wasting disease can affect humans. But there is a lot of developing research on that."

Keith Munro is in the process of putting together a special conference called the Conversation on CWD that will be hosted by the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, Mississauga, Ont. March 15 and 16, 2019. (OFAH)

Munro said at this point, health agencies such as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency recommend against eating meat from an animal that has tested positive for CWD.

He said CWD is a disease that can be carried by animals for some time with no obvious signs of it.

Munro said there is also no live test for the disease. He said the only conclusive way to know if an animal is infected is to have a sample from the brain and for this reason, there is great concern now about the spread of CWD infected animals into province like Ontario.

"If you look at the history of chronic wasting disease in North America, the spread of the disease is very closely tied to the movement of animals by the game farming industry," he said.

Munro said the first incidence of CWD in Canada came from infected game farm animals shipped out of North Dakota into Saskatchewan.

The biologist is now in the process of putting together a special conference called the Conversation on CWD that will be hosted by the OFAH.

Munro said the conference will bring together CWD experts from across North America, and provide networking opportunities with conservation organizations, scientists, Indigenous communities, wildlife managers, government officials, and outdoors enthusiasts who share the same concerns.

"All Canadians have a stake in this issue and we all take pride in the health of our wildlife," Munro said.

The Conversation on CWD event will take place in Mississauga, Ontario, on March 15 and 16.

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