Lab director explains process of examining specimens for chronic wasting disease

By Pilar Arias

SAN ANTONIO - The Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory has been receiving more white-tailed deer lymph nodes and brain tissues than usual. That is because it is the agency responsible for testing the specimens for chronic wasting disease from deer once housed at a facility in Medina County.

"You can imagine with this situation, they're very anxious to get the results very, very quickly," TVMDL Director Bruce Akey said.

The test results from College Station either result in a "positive" or "not detected." Akey said that's because only one or two slices of tissue are examined. Not detected doesn't necessarily mean the deer didn't have the neurological disease, which is most often compared to mad cow disease or scrapie.

TVMDL does 15,000 CWD tests a year. Most of the time the turnaround for results is 5-7 business days. Lately, the results from Medina County have been completed in three business days before being sent to a national lab in Iowa for confirmation. Akey said he makes sure his staff understands the implications of their results.

"Every case has somebody at the other end of it that's worried about their animal, worried about their livelihood, and if we get it wrong … someone loses their animals," Akey said.

Akey said his lab's results are crucial in helping the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Texas Animal Health Commission in deciding how to protect the multibillion-dollar Texas deer industry.

CWD has been confirmed in at least three deer from Robert Patterson's Texas Mountain Ranch.

On Tuesday, the two state agencies tackling the contamination announced a plan for deer breeder movement qualification standards. It allows breeders to move deer to ranches before the hunting season begins. The TWPD wildlife director said for the first time ever, that means deer at release sites are also going to need to be tested.