State tally reaches 4 in cases of deer illness

December 17, 2002 Chicago Tribune by Jeremy Manier

Three more Illinois deer have tested positive for chronic wasting disease, state wildlife officials said Monday, bringing the state's total to four and adding to concerns about how widely the animal disease has spread to Illinois.

Two of the new cases were deer shot by hunters within 2 miles of the area near Roscoe where the state's first infected deer was found in October and which is a few miles south of the Wisconsin border. The third new case was a deer shot near Woodstock. With more than 1,400 deer tested so far and thousands more left to test in the weeks ahead, state officials said it's unclear how the state will respond to the outbreak. Although Wisconsin has made controversial plans to shoot up to 25,000 deer in an effort to stamp out the infectious disease, officials with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources said they do not know whether that will be necessary here.

"The habitats are different, the situations are different," said department spokeswoman Carol Knowles. "We want to look at all the data and make the best-educated decision we can."

After the Illinois infection came to light in November, state officials said they expected to detect more cases of chronic wasting disease, a brain condition that can kill deer and elk but has not been shown to affect people. Experts do not know precisely how the disease spreads but believe deer may pass it to each other when they gather to feed.

In case the disease can be passed to humans, World Health Organization guidelines recommend against people eating infected deer. For that reason, Knowles said the Department of Natural Resources will collect meat from the hunters whose deer have tested positive.

Judd Aiken, an expert on chronic wasting disease at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, said it's too early to conclude how abundant the disease has become in Illinois, but he noted that four cases out of more than 1,400 samples is "not a high percentage."

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