An extensive surveillance programme seeks for CWD in cervids

29.11.2017 13:41

Finland, led by the Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira, will be involved in a surveillance programme that monitors chronic wasting disease (CWD) in cervids. The programme will be carried out in six EU countries in 2018 – 2020 and the programme will be used to examine whether the disease is present in the EU region. Chronic wasting disease is a degenerative brain disease of cervids that results in death and could cause major losses to the reindeer industry if it spreads. The utilisation of wild game would also become considerably more difficult. The disease has not been shown to be transmissible to humans, or naturally infect other domestic animals.

Out of the cervid species found in Finland, reindeer, moose, Finnish forest reindeer, white-tailed deer and roe deer are susceptible to the disease.

The disease has existed for decades in North America, but in Europe it was discovered for the first time in Norwegian wild reindeer and elk in 2016.

"The disease belongs to prion diseases, also known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. The disease is caused by prions, which are transformed proteins that can remain in the environment for years and are difficult to destroy," says Sirkka-Liisa Korpenfelt, the senior researcher in Evira's Virology Research Unit.

Chronic wasting disease is transmitted from one animal to another through saliva, faeces and urine, and from the environment contaminated by a diseased animal. Symptoms of chronic wasting disease include weight loss, apathy, dysfunctions of balance and coordination, and excessive drooling, drinking and urination. The animal also withdraws from the herd and can be unafraid of humans.

Results through collaboration

The purpose of the surveillance programme is to study both captive and wild cervids. The aim is to include animals throughout the country that are over a year old and have been put down due to manifestation of a disease or found dead. However, the surveillance does not include the fallow deer, because the species is considered to be resistant to the disease.

Control samples are also requested from all reindeer herding cooperatives, 45 randomly selected local game management associations and Åland, on cervids that are over a year old and have died in traffic, been killed by predators or have been rejected after slaughter.

More specific instructions have been sent to reindeer herding cooperatives, selected game management associations, hunters in Åland, owners of farmed deer and municipal veterinarians.

In addition to chronic wasting disease, prions are also known to cause diseases such as mad cow disease (BSE) in bovine animals, scrapie in sheep and goats, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

For additional information, please contact:
Marja Isomursu, Senior Researcher (sample collection), tel. +358 40 512 1248
Sirkka-Liisa Korpenfelt, Senior Researcher (laboratory diagnostics), tel. +358 50 351 0308
Hanna Kuukka-Anttila, Senior Officer (surveillance programme), tel. +358 40 351 3318