A ranch that raises elk and white-tailed deer is quarantined and statewide shipments of all farm-raised deer are on hold after an elk that died in Lincoln County tested positive for chronic wasting disease.
The 2-year-old bull elk died of injuries in early April, and results of standard-procedure tests this week were positive for CWD, according to the state Department of Agriculture, Food & Forestry and the Department of Wildlife Conservation.
The disease is problematic because the protein from bodily fluids that spreads the disease can exist in the soil for many years and an animal can carry the disease for years without showing symptoms. There is no vaccine or treatment, and only dead animals can be used for test samples.
Spokesmen for both departments and for the Oklahoma Department of Health emphasized that there is no record of chronic wasting disease in humans. Still, none recommend eating an animal that is showing outward signs of the brain disease, such as drastic weight loss, stumbling or listlessness.
The challenges in Lincoln County now are to try to determine how this case of chronic wasting disease originated and to test to see whether it has a wider presence, said state veterinarian Rod Hall.
The state ordered DNA tests from the lab that handled the positive sample to be sure there was not a mix-up, Hall said.
The rancher could lose the entire stock and might not be allowed to raise any cervid species on the property again, Hall said. He didn’t know the exact number in the herd but estimated “a couple hundred.”
“If we’re going to have this kind of impact on someone, we want to make sure beyond a doubt, but at the same time we will assume it is correct until we know differently. That’s why we’ve put a hold on everything,” Hall said.
He said the state chose to withhold the name and exact location of the ranch but acknowledged that people will sort it out soon enough.
“It’s bad enough for them as it is right now,” Hall said. “It’s not something they did wrong or anything they deserve.”
The health of the herd at the farm is well documented, he said.
“This particular herd has been in our CWD certification program for as long as we’ve had that program, and they have, according to our records, not imported an elk in about 20 years. … It is a complete shock to me that we found it there.”
Fences at the site are being inspected, and officials are alerting anyone who has purchased deer or elk from the ranch, as well as their state agencies, that they may have an animal that potentially was exposed to CWD.
Only once before in Oklahoma, in 1998 in Oklahoma County, did another domesticated animal test positive for the disease. Two decades of tests of wild deer around that area still have not shown another trace of it, said Wildlife Department spokesman Micah Holmes.
All states bordering Oklahoma have recorded positive results for chronic wasting disease among wild deer, but Oklahoma has yet to see a positive test result.
“We are going to work with willing landowners in the area to take a number of antlerless deer for testing,” Holmes said. He said biologists will determine an appropriate number to kill for a sound scientific sample.
It is too early to know if the discovery will have any impact on hunting seasons, Holmes said.
Scott Meador with the Tulsa Health Department explains what is done during mosquito season in Tulsa. Stephen Pingry/Tulsa World