The latest test results on chronic wasting disease show two things: One, it's still pretty much confined to three areas within Utah, but it is spreading, and two, Utah elk are still shielded from the disease.

Test results on 2,100 deer taken in fall hunts in 2005 came back this past week. Eight of the deer tested positive for the disease. This brings to 26 the number of deer found in Utah over the past three years that have gotten the disease.

There have been no positive results on more than 300 Utah elk that have been tested. Thus far, no Utah elk has been found with the disease.

Tissue samples from the 2,500 animals — elk and deer — were tested in the Utah Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Logan.

Of the eight deer that tested positive, two were taken on last fall's muzzleloader hunt. The remaining six were tagged during the October rifle season.

"The disease appears to be staying within areas where we've already found it," said Leslie McFarlane, wildlife disease specialist for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

"In central and northeastern Utah, we estimate that less than 1 percent of the buck population is affected by CWD. In the LaSal Mountains in southeastern Utah, we estimate about 2 percent of the buck deer have the disease."

Biologists were not happy that two of the deer that tested positive were taken near the town of Fountain Green.

There had been but one case of CWD in the area. A doe was shot in the summer of 2003.

"We were hoping that would be the only deer we would find in that part of the state," said McFarlane. "We tested more than 1,000 deer in that area in the fall of 2003 and 2004 and didn't find any other deer with the disease.

"The two deer that tested positive this year, however, confirms that we do have the disease in the central part of the state."

One deer was taken near the Spencer Fork Wildlife Management Area, about 20 miles north of Fountain Green. The second was about eight miles from that location.

The hardest hit area has been the LaSal Mountains east of Moab. Five of the diseased deer were taken in that unit.

The eighth deer was a yearling buck taken near the south end of Flaming Gorge Reservoir. That was the first CWD-positive deer found in that specific area, but other CWD-positive deer have been found near Vernal, just 20 miles to the south.

McFarlane said the eight hunters have been notified of the test results.

The first case of CWD was found in 2003 in an area northeast of Vernal.

Since that find, the DWR has tested more than 10,300 Utah deer.

Thus far there have been 26 deer that have tested positive. A total of 18 of 26 came from the LaSal Mountains, four were from the Vernal area, one near Flaming Gorge and three from the Fountain Green area.

CWD is fatal to deer and elk that contract it. However, according to the World Health Organization, "There is currently no evidence that CWD in cervidae (deer and elk) is transmitted to humans."

States that have reported positive cases include Utah, Colorado, Illinois, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming, as well as the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

First identified in an area along the borders of Colorado and Wyoming near Cheyenne in 1967, it was pretty much confined for several years. Recently, however, it has started to spread.

Not much is really known about the disease. It is a transmissible spongiform that results in a progressive and always fatal disease of the nervous system.

Clinical signs include poor posture, lowered head and ears, uncoordinated movement, rough-hair coat, weight loss, increased thirst, excessive drooling and, ultimately, death.

One of the mysteries is just how it is spread. One theory is through animal-to-animal contact.

A moose killed in northern Colorado has tested positive for CWD and is apparently the first of its species known to have contracted the disease in the wild.

It is believed that Utah's first case of CWD, which showed up near Vernal, involved a deer that had come in contact with a contaminated herd across the border in Colorado.

How it reached deer in the LaSal Mountains and in the Fountain Green area remains a mystery.


E-mail: grass@desnews.com