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Because chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been detected in bordering states, it was no surprise to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources when it showed up in a wild deer in Northeast Iowa.

Kevin Baskins, communications bureau chief for the DNR, said although CWD was previously detected in the state, the prior cases were all found in captive deer, “used as breeding stock or for some kind of shooting preserve.”

Baskins said the deer in question was a mature male harvested near Harpers Ferry during the first shotgun season in early December 2013. He said there is no way to tell if the current case of CWD is linked to a previous Allamakee case involving a domestic elk.

“We really don’t know where the animal came from. Additional testing is needed to answer those questions,” said Baskins.

Baskins said it is certainly possible the deer “island hopped” across the Mississippi from Wisconsin, which has reported confirmed cases of CWD in the past.


About the sampling

When asked why it took almost four months to detect the disease, Baskins said the laboratory in Texas that processes the samples is extremely busy.

“Every state is sending in samples every year. The lab is obviously processing a lot of these. From last deer season, we’ve only received about two-thirds of the results,” said Baskins.

Baskins said the way sampling works is game wardens and biologists approach hunting parties in the field and ask their permission to take a sample of the deer’s brain stem, which is then sent in for testing.


Education and prevention

Since 2002, the Iowa DNR has collected more than 650 samples from deer within a five-mile radius of where the affected deer is believed to have been harvested.

Baskins said the DNR is currently working to obtain as much information as possible about the infected deer to implement its CWD response plan.

“We have been testing for CWD in Iowa’s deer herd for more than a decade and are optimistic, given the extensive data we have collected, that we have caught this early,” said Chuck Gipp of Decorah, DNR director.

“The next step will be to focus our monitoring efforts in the area where the animal was harvested and work closely with local landowners and hunters to gather more information.”

Baskins added the DNR will eventually host some educational meetings in Northeast Iowa to discuss how hunters can help with additional sampling and minimize the spread of the disease.

“People should try to avoid activities that congregate deer, such as putting out salt licks,” said Baskins.

Baskins added one of the advantages of CWD previously being detected in bordering states, is Iowa has been able to learn from the experience of others.

“CWD was detected in some western states a long time ago. It’s definitely something we don’t like to see here, but it’s not the end of the world,” said Baskins.

“As we get additional information, we will definitely keep the public informed.”   


About CWD

According to a press release provided by the DNR, CWD is a neurological disease affecting primarily deer and elk.

It is caused by an abnormal protein, called a “prion” that attacks the brains of infected animals, causing them to lose weight, display abnormal behavior and lose bodily functions.

Signs include excessive salivation, thirst and urination, loss of appetite, progressive weight loss, listlessness and drooping ears and head. The only reliable test for CWD requires testing of lymph nodes or brain material.

There is currently no evidence that humans can contract CWD by eating venison. However, the National Institute of Health and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommend hunters do not eat the brain, eyeballs or spinal cord of deer, and that hunters wear protective gloves while field dressing game and boning out meat for consumption.

For more information, visit cwd-info.org.