By MIKE CORN
Save for a few more road-kill samples, virtually all of the tests for chronic wasting disease testing are done.
It's a good news, bad news situation.
The good news is there hasn't been an explosion of the brain-wasting, always-fatal disease in the state's deer herd.
The bad news is the number of deer found to be suffering from the disease increased slightly, and the area where they have been found is expanding.
By the time all the samples are completed, it's likely testing by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks will have found 11 cases of CWD. Likely, because one case is still considered presumptive, awaiting final results.
But 10 cases -- equal to what was found last year -- have been confirmed, according to Shane Hesting, coordinator for KDWP's CWD monitoring program.
All of the white-tailed deer came from northwest Kansas, as had been expected.
The distribution, however, was slightly greater.
This year, five CWD-infected deer, one of which is the presumptive test, came from Decatur County. Two others came from Rawlins County and one each from Sheridan, Graham, Logan and Thomas counties.
It's a first for Graham and Logan counties.
The deer from Sheridan and Thomas counties were showing clinical signs of the disease, another first.
There are holes in the sampling process, Hesting said, primarily because hunters are lax about using the state's monitoring program, even though it comes at no cost to them.
The idea of sampling is to obtain a glimpse into what the infection rate might be.
Decatur County, Hesting said, would have the highest rate of infection, perhaps as high as 2 percent based on the sampling that has been done. The rest of the 12-county area of northwest Kansas might have a 1 percent rate, he thinks.
Why Decatur County is so high is uncertain, although Hesting said it's possible it might stem from a captive cervid operation once operating in the area.
Or, it could be the natural southeastern progression that seems to follow the spread of CWD.
Of course, Hesting said, there's a lot that simply isn't known about CWD.
It's been suggested that CWD made the jump from sheep to deer in captive facilities where research was under way. That can't be proven, he said.
It's just as unclear how the disease spreads, although it's known to be caused by prions, misshapen proteins.
One of the mysteries about CWD in Kansas is why only white-tailed deer have been positive. While it is the most popular and most abundant deer, northwest Kansas has a relatively high rate of mule deer.
So far, no mule deer in Kanas has tested positive.
"There's so many questions with it, that deal with it," Hesting said.
Of the deer testing positive, two were showing clinical signs of the disease.
"Our biologist found both of them out there," Hesting said, and they were both emaciated and showing little muscle tissue.
While they weren't tested for epizootic hemorrhagic disease, he has no doubt the problem stems from CWD.
"Without much more information, I'd have to call them classic for CWD," Hesting said.
Older deer, those over 2 years old, are more apt to show clinical signs of the disease.
Also not known is how the disease is going to affect the state's deer herd.
Current estimates suggest the disease might kill off half of the population.
"Which is a heck of a lot of deer that won't be on the landscape," Hesting said. "It's a health issue, then it's a population issue."
Despite all that, hunters aren't keen on getting deer tested.
"As long as there's deer out there to shoot," he said, "they're not too worried about that."