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Community News Network

January 8, 2013

Chronic wasting disease sees fast rise in Iowa

BLOOMFIELD — News of domesticated deer with chronic wasting disease may become more common. As for the wild deer population, scientists still want assistance.  

Last week, a third deer in Davis County was revealed to have chronic wasting disease. The state said Pine Ridge hunting preserve cooperated with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources in putting up a fence-inside-a-fence to keep their deer from going nose-to-nose with wild deer. And whenever a client on their preserve successfully hunts a deer, that animal is given over to the DNR for testing.

Chronic wasting disease causes deer to lose weight, to stumble around or to act extremely sleepy. It eventually results in death of the deer.

DNR deer biologist Tom Litchfield told the Courier Monday there are other illnesses that mimic CWD, but any deer that show such symptoms are tested anyway.

Scientists have said CWD is not a danger to humans, even those who eat deer meat — though they never recommend eating any infected meat.

The initial positive sample was confirmed in July, submitted from a deer shot in December 2011. The second positive test was confirmed Dec. 12, 2012, from a deer harvested Dec. 1.

The fear among state officials and nature enthusiasts is that an infected deer in a pen did or will give the disease to deer in the wilderness.

The third sample came from a male deer harvested Dec. 15 at the Pine Ridge Hunting Preserve in Davis County.

That brings the number of known infected deer in Iowa from zero six months ago to 13 as of this week. All are from enclosed hunting or breeding facilities.

Researchers investigating the phenomena say the infected deer came from a facility in Cerro Gordo County. So did infected deer at a breeding and hunting facility in Pottawattamie County, which has so far had about nine positive deer.

The Cerro Gordo facility turned up a deer positive for the fatal (to deer) disease. Biologists aren’t surprised when animals penned together pass the disease around.  

“The deer [in captivity] are all in close proximity to each other,” said Litchfield, adding that the only deer positive for the disease have been in enclosed facilities. “We’ve been testing since 2002. So far, we’ve tested 42,557.”

Around the three suspect facilities, the DNR has been collecting extra samples by asking hunters to either donate their kill or be certain to properly remove parts of their kill. The only way to test deer and elk is to kill them first.

“This past year we’ve collected over 4,000 [animals], but we’re still looking for more samples within five miles of the Davis County facility,” Litchfield said. “We have not met the desired quota of 300.”

Deer seasons ends Jan. 20. However, if residents see a deer with symptoms anywhere in the state, at any time, they should contact the DNR.

The other thing residents can do, scientists advise, is help keep the potential for disease low in the wild. Between deer, nose-to-nose contact and social grooming are two easy ways to transmit CWD.

But those “salt blocks” some nature lovers put out for deer can speed up the transfer of CWD. An infected deer licks the salt block, followed a while later by a healthy deer. The healthy deer licks up the germs and becomes infected. Every deer enjoying that salt block could end up infected.

Dumping an infected carcass improperly can also spread the disease more quickly, officials cautioned.

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