Biologists warn of disease among deer

Biologists warn of disease among deer

June 2, 2001 The Kansas City Star by Bill Graham
Biologists in Missouri and Kansas are watching deer herds for signs of chronic wasting disease - an illness similar to mad cow disease.

The Missouri Department of Conservation on Thursday asked for the public's help in watching for listless or sickly looking deer, so those animals can be tested for chronic wasting disease.

"This is precautionary," said deer biologist Jeff Beringer. "Hopefully we will never see it."

But the disease seems to be slowly spreading among deer in Colorado, Wyoming and western Nebraska.

Chronic wasting disease, unlike mad cow, does not harm humans. [The little data we have actually show quite the reverse--that chronic wasting disease prions from deer and elk can indeed affect human brain tissue--BSE coordinator] And the disease is not known to affect livestock.

But it is fatal to deer. It's known as a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy disease, which results from mutated proteins that cause a degeneration of the brain. Biologists are unsure how the disease spreads.

If the disease does arrive in Missouri or Kansas, the best hope of containing it will be to quickly identify it and reduce deer numbers in that area. That's why the public is being asked to keep watch for sickly deer.

"The best thing is to try and keep it out of your state," Beringer said. "If it does start, the next best thing is to try and contain it."

The department also will be conducting random tests on animals killed during next fall's deer hunting season to watch for the disease.

Kansas is also monitoring for chronic wasting disease, said Lloyd Fox, big game biologist for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. About 300 deer were tested during the past two hunting seasons.

The disease has been most prominent in mule deer, which are found in western Kansas. But whitetail deer, found in Missouri and eastern Kansas, can also get the disease, Fox said.

Deer with the disease will be thin, appear weak, salivate excessively, have drooping ears and appear to be unafraid of humans. How to help

Anyone spotting a deer with these symptoms in Missouri should contact a local conservation agent or call Jeff Beringer at 1-(573) 882-9880, Ext. 3211. In Kansas, contact a local conservation agent or call Lloyd Fox at 1-(620) 342-0658.

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