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Chronic Wasting Disease Found in Minnesota Wild Deer

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For the first time, a wild deer in Minnesota has tested positive for chronic wasting disease, which is fatal to deer, elk, and moose but not known to affect humans or cattle.

Chronic wasting disease naturally occurs in North American deer, moose and Rocky Mountain elk. It belongs to a group of infectious diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies that also includes mad cow disease.

It is caused by an abnormal protein called a prion which affects the animal's brain and is invariably fatal. Usually, months to years pass from the time an animal is infected to when it shows signs of the disease.

The National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa confirmed January 25 that a deer killed by a hunter in November near Pine Island in southeastern Minnesota had chronic wasting disease.

The finding had been expected and confirms a preliminary diagnosis by the University of Minnesota.

Minnesota wildlife officials say the disease is a serious concern, not only because of the obvious harmful effects on deer health, but also due to the negative impacts to landowners, hunters, and businesses. Deer with chronic wasting disease (Photo courtesy Colorado Division of Wildlife)

Chronic wasting disease is found in 13 other states, including the Midwestern states of Wisconsin, Illinois, North Dakota and South Dakota, and two Canadian provinces.

Typical signs of the disease include drooping head or ears, poor body condition, tremors, stumbling, increased salivation, difficulty swallowing, or excessive thirst or urination.