CWD-Positive Deer Found Near Elkader

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By Pam Reinig

Register Editor


A sample from a wild deer shot northwest of Elkader has tested positive for chronic wasting disease. This is the first confirmed case in Clayton County, although nine positive CWD samples were found this season in Allamakee County,

“It’s disappointing but not altogether surprising,” said Dr. Dale Garner, chief of Wildlife for the Iowa Department of Nature Resources, adding that Clayton County was a focal point for increased surveillance based on its proximity to areas when CWD-positive deer have been found.

DNR Northeast Wildlife Supervisor Jim Jansen adds that the likelihood of finding more CWD-positive deer here is greater now that one case has been confirmed.

“If there is one, there could be more,” he said. “However, since this positive deer was somewhat isolated from other know positives, there’s a chance we might not find more. In 2011, Minnesota has an isolated positive and though (DNT experts) searched for three years, they didn’t find any more disease in the area.”

The DNR has scheduled a meeting Monday, February 13, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at Johnson’s, Elkader, to discuss the status of the disease and how it stop its spread. Garner, a leading expert on the disease and its management; DNR Director Chuck Gipp; and Jansen will be at the meeting.

“We hope to work with landowners and hunters to ensure the health of Iowa’s deer herd for future generations,” Jansen continued, adding that attending the meeting is a good first step for anyone concerned about the disease.

CWD is a neurological disease that affects whitetail deer and other members of the deer family like elk and moose. Signs include extreme weight loss and drooping ears and head. There’s no cure once an animal becomes infected; the fatality rate is 100 percent. 

According to Dr. Julie Blanchong, associate professor and wildlife disease ecologist at Iowa State University, the disease is spread through nose-to-nose contact as deer interact with each other, and also through contact with salvia, feces and other environments that are contaminated with the CWD-causing protein.

“There’s no proven solution for controlling or getting rid of this disease from free-ranging deer,” Blanchong continued. “Some of the recommendations are to minimize practices that cause deer to congregation. Things like feeding deer could potentially increase contact rates that could increase the chances of transmission.”

Jansen said that keeping the herd “young” might also slow the spread of the disease. “It’s more prevalent in older animals,” he continued. 

There’s currently no evidence that humans contact CWD by eating infected venison. However, consumption of CWD-positive meat is not recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.

Since 2002, the Iowa DNR has worked with hunters and collected over 7,000 tissue samples in Clayton County looking for CWD. Jansen added that statewide more than 61,000 samples have been collected.

“Our hope with this intensive surveillance is to find the disease early so we can eliminate it or better manage it,” Jansen said.

A special hunt to secure more samples recently ended. Jansen said 169 deer were collected and 127 tested (fawns were not tested). The results on 23 samples have been returned; none tested positive. Jansen said it will be a few more weeks before all testing is finished.

Deer hunting is a vital part of the northeast Iowa economy with hunters from across the state and elsewhere trekking here every deer season. The meat is also an important food source for families in need. Area food shelves given out tons of processed venison. Deer hunting is also a family tradition for many in Northeast Iowa. Left unchecked, any CWD that greatly diminishes deer herds will adversely impact the local economy.

The February 13 meeting is open to the general public. Jansen is hoping for a strong turn-out.

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