Chronic Wasting Disease: Only 1 case in UP; officials warn against false security

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Stacy Haughey, Upper Peninsula regional coordinator for the Department of Natural Resources, gives an update Wednesday on testing for chronic wasting disease.

BARAGA — As part of the continuing efforts to detect and contain chronic wasting disease and bovine tuberculosis in Michigan, 29,500 animals were tested in the past year.

Fifty-eight of the samples tested positive, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Upper Peninsula Regional Coordinator Stacy Haughey said at Wednesday’s Upper Peninsula Citizens Advisory Council. Since 2008, 72,000 animals have undergone testing in Michigan.

About 2,000 animals were tested in the Upper Peninsula, versus a goal of about 1,050, said Terry Minzey, Upper Peninsula regional wildlife supervisor for the DNR. To aid testing, staff in the Upper Peninsula were trained on removing the lymph nodes from the head.

“For those of you that had your deer testing up here, the testing went a lot faster than what it might have done for others,” Minzey said.

CWD is a neurodegenerative disease affecting mule deer, whitetail deer, elk and moose. It was first found in wild whitetailed deer in state in 2015.

In a first for the Upper Peninsula, a deer tested positive for CWD, occurring in Dickinson County in October. No others have been found in the U.P. so far.

“I hope people don’t get a false sense of security out of that, because the chances are astronomically small that we got the only one,” Minzey said.

The DNR tries to escalate testing within a 10-mile concentric circle of a positive test. That was complicated by a portion within Wisconsin, where only three animals were tested, Minzey said. However, he said, he’s hopeful they’ll be able to launch more collaborative efforts with Wisconsin in coming years.

The DNR will have meetings next week to discuss how to improve the CWD testing process. The 29,500 tests in 2018 came at a cost of $3.5 million. That’s not sustainable, Minzey said.

“We can’t continue to keep do things the way we’ve been doing this,” he said. “It’s too expensive. We’re wearing our people out. We’re going to take a step back and see if there’s a better way to do this.”

Katelyn Rader, Upper Peninsula coordinator for U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, spoke about Senate Bill 3644, which Peters co-sponsored. The bill would have the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture enter into an agreement with the National Academy of Sciences. The Academy would then prepare a report describing research that identifies the predominant pathways and mechanisms by which CWD is transmitted. She also asked the council what actions would be helpful going forward.

Suggestions from the council included looking at the interstate movement of animals and the absorption by plant materials of damaged prions — a protein found in the brain of stricken animals that folds incorrectly.