Fawns have wasting disease; 4 animals in Neb. Youngest infected

February 4, 2002 The Associated Press
Four fawns that tested positive for chronic wasting disease in Nebraska are the youngest animals found to carry the illness.

Scientists and wildlife officials call the development intriguing, though not necessarily surprising. Few, if any, deer in that age range - 6 to 8 months old - have been killed and tested before, experts say. One reason: Hunters submitting samples for chronic wasting testing rarely take fawns.

Still, the information is one more clue in a frightening disease that is vexing agriculture and wildlife officials in Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and elsewhere - all of them desperate to keep it from spreading.

"Every time we pick up information on this disease, it gives us a little more on how to solve it," said Bruce Morrison, assistant administrator for the wildlife division of Nebraska's Game and Parks Commission.

The fawns - originally reported by Nebraska officials as wild, but actually part of a highly infected captive herd in the northern part of the state's panhandle - weren't showing outward signs of the disease.

The earliest stage a deer has shown physical symptoms of chronic wasting is 15 months. Those deer were part of an experimental herd given heavy doses of the disease, said Mike Miller, a Colorado Division of Wildlife veterinarian.

How the infected fawns in Nebraska contracted the disease isn't clear, though experts don't believe the illness is passed on in the womb. They believe close physical contact between an infected doe and her fawn after birth is the more likely vehicle.

Chronic wasting disease, which kills elk and deer, is similar to mad cow disease in cattle, scrapie in sheep and "new variant" Creutzfeldt-Jakob in people. The illness causes tiny holes in the brain. There are no verified cases of humans contracting chronic wasting disease.

Until recently, the disease appeared confined to a small swath of Colorado and Wyoming. But in recent years it has cropped up elsewhere, including on private elk ranches.

Wildlife and agricultural officials are scrambling to contain and understand the illness, which has the potential to devastate the hunting economy, tourism and the elk ranching industry.

The infected fawns were discovered among a herd of captive elk and deer in Sioux County in northwestern Nebraska.

NOTES: Contact Todd Hartman at (303) 892-5048 or hartmant@RockyMountainNews.com. Contact Gary Gerhardt at (303) 892-5202 or gerhardtg@RockyMountainNews.com.

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