The disease devastating deer herds may also threaten human health

10 Apr 2019 11:04 #1 by Mountain-News-Events
The disease devastating deer herds may also threaten human health
Scientists are exploring the origins of chronic wasting disease before it becomes truly catastrophic.
Rae Ellen Bichell, High Country News | April 8, 2019

Elk at the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming. Conservation groups have filed suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to phase out feeding the elk, saying the feedlots are breeding grounds for diseases including chronic wasting disease. Photo by Tim Pratt, biology technician/USFWS

It’s a beautiful spring morning and the animals look sleek and healthy. But all is not what it seems. This herd is harboring an infection — chronic wasting disease, or CWD.

Scientists have called this neurodegenerative disease, which attacks deer, elk and moose, a “nightmare” and a “state of emergency.” Lately, the media’s been calling it “zombie deer disease.” Lawmakers are calling it a “crisis” and currently considering at least three bills at the national level to combat it. Researchers, resource managers and others worry it could hurt hunting, alter the landscape, or even jump across species to infect people.

Colorado, where 57% of deer herds and 37% of elk herds are infected, just came out with its latest management plan for chronic wasting disease. It includes testing animals, in some cases thinning out overly infected herds, warning hunters and taxidermists about how to handle tainted entrails and potentially investing in more incinerators to dispose of infected carcasses.

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