Hospital could assist in local CWD testing

Administrator says facility has been gathering information on issue to help community

If it is feasible to do so, The Memorial Hospital would be willing to donate its testing laboratory to conduct chronic wasting disease research next fall, said hospital administrator Randy Phelps.

"We've been interested since it was first suggested about a month ago and we've been getting information to determine what the requirements are," Phelps said. "We have professional people in the laboratory that can probably do the test procedure."

Local residents and officials have expressed concern about what impact the recent discovery of chronic wasting disease in wild mule deer south of Hayden might have on hunting next season.

A local chronic wasting disease committee, consisting of county and city officials and local business owners, decided two weeks ago to investigate the possibility of setting up a portable testing lab in Craig next fall.

Right now in order to get a deer or elk tested for CWD, a tissue sample of the animal must be sent to a lab at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Having a local testing facility would speed up the turn-around time in which someone could submit a sample and have the test results back, officials believe. The problem with setting up a portable lab might be finding enough funding and staff to run the lab.

A veterinarian from the University of Wyoming, where a CWD lab is located, estimated it would cost $200,000 to set up a portable lab.

Phelps said many questions still need to be answered, but said TMH is available if its lab can be used.

The local chronic wasting disease committee meets at 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos is supposed to come to the meeting with answers from state officials about:

Equipment and personnel needed in setting up a lab.

An estimated cost.

What types of new testing might be available.

What type of funding assistance might be available from the state.

"We're planning to have people attend the meeting Wednesday," Phelps said. "We want to keep the door open. We don't know the depth of the equipment and lab professionals that will be required."

So far Phelps said no one has told the hospital it would be impossible to do testing there.

"We haven't seen any barriers yet," he said. "But I don't know if we have enough information to say yes or no yet."

Several questions still need to be answered, he said.

"We need answers to questions like 'what lab skills and instruments are required?'" he said. "Staffing is an issue we would have to continue looking at. We would have to assess the volume of how many tests will need to be done. We have to look at all of the elements to make sure we can do the job required."

The lab technicians might be handling samples of animals suffering from a disease that still carries many unknowns but the technicians are trained to do that, Phelps said.

"It's something we have to be mindful of," he said. "There are human diseases out there known to be infectious that are handled in the laboratory. The technicians are very skilled in handling the specimens."

If it can benefit the community, Phelps said, TMH would continue to explore the possibilities.

"This is not to make money but to serve our community," he said. "When this is discussed, we'll be at the table. If there's an opportunity to do that we'll investigate it."

Raftopoulos said having the hospital involved is beneficial in the effort to minimize the possible economic impacts the recent discovery might have on the area.

"I think it's significant that the hospital is willing to do this, but I need to find out what it is we have to do to do the testing and find out what type of training technicians have to have," she said.

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