As this year's hunting season comes to an end, a large number of samples have been submitted to check for a disease sweeping the province.

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) affects animals like Mule Deer, Moose, and Elk, resulting in death in all those who have the affliction.

A yearly study of CWD in the province asks for hunters to submit a sample of an animal they have hunted for analysis, and saw an increase in this year's sample size that was submitted.

Wildlife Health Specialist with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment, Iga Stasaik, says that at this point, there are no real surprises when it comes to the number of cases of the disease that they have discovered.

"Most of our positive cases have been in Mule Deer, in areas of the province where we know we have Chronic Wasting Disease, at this stage, it's still impossible to compare, so we're not at a stage where we can compare to previous years, that's going to take some time, we're going to wait to get all the data, and then we have to look at it and evaluate it by region to see if there are any changes."

Samples analyzed in the study include both whole animal heads, as well as brain samples taken by hunters.

Stasaik said that while the study has been happening since 2000, this year's collection numbers saw a large increase this year, something that may be in part due to the ability for hunters to be able to keep the head of the animal and also get it tested.

"We've had pretty good participation, last year we had just over 800 heads collected, and this year, we've had a real uptick in the number of submissions, we've had over 1,500 heads collected for testing, we're likely going to reach 2,000 before the end of the season."

One hundred and thirty-five of the samples submitted have been deemed positive, but according to Stasaik, most of the samples are still pending.

Some of the ways that prevention of the spread of the disease is possible with the implementation of a few practices, including refraining from baiting animals and feeding them, as well as moving animal carcasses.

The Ministry of Environment is looking at creating and implementing a plan to minimize the disease based on these and other practices, as Stasaik outlined.

"So those are all thing that we are going to be looking at in the coming months, in the coming year, and we're going to be considering what actions we can take, also thing like changing harvest allocation in certain areas, we know that older age classes, older bucks, are more likely to be infected, so by increasing harvest of older bucks specifically, that can help transmission risk."

While some visible symptoms of CWD are excessive drool, droopy ears, or abnormal behaviour, the illness may only present these symptoms during the last week of the animal's life, while the animal may have been affected for two to three years without presenting any.

Animals infected with Chronic Wasting Disorder are not dangerous to consume, but Stasaik says that as a precautionary measure, animals know to have the affliction should not be consumed.

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