Live CWD test in elk shows promise

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Researchers in May completed their third year of evaluating and validating the first live rectal-tissue biopsy method for detecting chronic wasting disease in captive and wild elk.

More than 1,500 biopsy specimens have been collected from captive elk in Colorado, 15 of which the new method found to test positive for CWD. Compared with proven postmortem diagnostic tests, the new test appears to be nearly as accurate, according to the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which is conducting the research along with the Colorado State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.

"Until now, there was no practical live test for CWD in elk," said research wildlife biologist Kurt VerCauteren, PhD, with APHIS' Wildlife Services National Wildlife Research Center. "With this technique we can detect CWD in animals not showing any signs of the disease and, thus, remove them so they are not left to infect other individuals and further contaminate the environment."

The disease has been reported in captive and free-ranging mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, and moose. CWD has been a devastating disease to the captive elk industry. An estimated 12,000 to 14,000 captive elk have been killed in the western United States and Canada in the past seven to eight years to control CWD. Several thousand free-ranging mule deer, white-tailed deer and elk also have been killed in attempts to reduce the disease in the wild.

"The use of this new live test in the initial screening, surveillance, and monitoring of CWD will greatly aid in the management and control of the disease in the wild, as well as in captive settings," Dr. VerCauteren said.