April 27, 2005, 6:13 PM EDT
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — State environmental officials said Wednesday they received a preliminary positive result for chronic wasting disease in a wild deer.
The positive sample came from the tissue of a yearling white-tailed deer, which was tested as part of the state Department of Environmental Conservation's monitoring efforts in Oneida County. The sample, tested at Cornell University, will be forwarded to the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, to be verified.
If confirmed, it would be the first known instance of CWD in the wild in New York state.
The news comes just six days after state wildlife officials reported none of the tissue samples taken from 64 wild deer had tested positive. Authorities have so far confirmed five infected captive deer.
The DEC began intensive monitoring after CWD was found in two captive white-tailed herds in Oneida County. The state Department of Agriculture and Markets completed testing of the captive deer in early April and found five positive results for the disease in the two captive herds. It marked the first time CWD had been found outside the Midwest or Rocky Mountains.
The DEC said it will file emergency regulations later this week to ensure proper handling of deer in an effort to prevent further spread of CWD in the wild. The regulations will establish a containment area in Oneida County where CWD has been identified. Initially, it will include the cities of Rome, Sherrill, Utica and Oneida, and the towns of Floyd, Marcy, Whitestown, Westmoreland, Verona, Vernon, Kirkland and New Hartford.
The new rules will prohibit movement of certain animal parts out of the containment area, establish mandatory check stations for any deer taken by hunters in the containment area, and prohibit possession of any deer killed by a motor vehicle so DEC can acquire specimens for testing.
The collection, sale, possession, or transport of deer or elk urine taken from the containment area also will not be allowed. Urine is used by hunters to attract the animals.
The emergency rules also will specify record keeping and reporting requirements for taxidermists, and wildlife rehabilitators will be prohibited from taking in wild white-tailed deer at facilities that house live antlered animals unless the rehabilitators possess a specific permit from DEC. Retailers who sell deer feed will be required to post a sign reminding customers that feeding wild deer is illegal.
"Our emergency regulations will be finalized by the end of the week in the containment area," DEC spokesman Michael Fraser said. "We're going to require hunters to check any deer. Right now, we're sampling road kill, and in the fall we hope to sample results from hunter-killed deer."
DEC has conducted statewide sampling of wild deer for CWD since 2002. To date, more than 3,700 samples have been taken from wild white-tailed deer. Fraser said the intensive sampling of tissue in Oneida County would end early Saturday.
"We've always said we were going to take an adaptive approach to the samplings," he said. "Now, we'll go about trying to shift gears, change the approach a little and make a determination exactly where it is and how frequently it's occurring."
Concern the fatal disease could spread to humans arose recently after 350 people at a sportsman's dinner in March ate venison from sick deer. Scientists say they're still learning about CWD and can't say for sure if it could be transmitted to humans.
CWD affects the brain and central nervous system of certain deer and elk. There is no evidence that it is linked to disease in humans or domestic livestock other than deer or elk.