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Montana officials working to halt spread of chronic wasting disease in deer

Posted at 7:39 AM, Feb 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-23 09:39:17-05

Could chronic wasting disease possibly make the leap from deer to humans? That’s a question a lot of people are wondering after a couple stories made the rounds in recent weeks about CWD or what has also been called Zombie Deer Disease.

Michael Osterholm, the director of Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, is quoted in USA Today saying that it is probable that human cases of CWD associated with the consumption of meat could be documented in years ahead.

With so many hunters in Montana and so many people who eat deer meat, Q2 talked to Bob Gibson of Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Friday about the spread of CWD and whether people should be concerned.

“It has been moving toward us geographically very slowly, but it has arrived and now we just need to deal with it,” says Gibson.

Chronic Wasting Disease has been around for decades but was first detected in the wild in Montana about two years ago in a deer that was harvested in Carbon County near Bridger. Since then it has shown up in a couple other places in the state as well.

CWD is transmitted from animal-to-animal contact.  The symptoms include weight loss, droopiness, strange behavior, and eventually death.  Once it becomes obvious, the animal is near death. The deer that it was detected in here in Montana had not reached that stage and appeared normal in all other ways according to Gibson.

As for the fears that CWD could make the jump from animals to humans, no cases of that kind have been reported. In fact, Gibson says, it hasn’t even moved to other animals.

“Antelope, sheep, goats, even lab mice have not been able to catch that bad prion, and it has never moved to humans either, but the WHO and CDC recommend that if you have a deer that tests positive for CWD don’t eat it because you don’t want to be the first one,” says Gibson.

Gibson says that if you are concerned at all about any meat that you harvest, you can find details about how to have it tested on the FWP website.

Gibson says that if you hunt in Carbon County, there will be more liberal hunting regulations there for 2019.  It’s one way that they are trying to keep the deer population under control and CWD from spreading.

“We know that the most common way for CWD to spread is animal to animal so if we can get fewer animals in an area—thin them out—it is less likely to spread and less likely to get bad,” says Gibson.

Story by Russ Riesinger, MTN News