'Zombie deer disease' has impacted wildlife in 24 states

For the first time chronic wasting disease was found in a wild deer in Crow Wing County. Forum News Service file

For the first time chronic wasting disease was found in a wild deer in Crow Wing County. Forum News Service file

Chronic wasting disease was first observed in the 1960s in Colorado, and now has been confirmed in two dozen US states and two Canadian provinces, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There's a potential risk it could spread to humans, the agency added. In the House, GOP Rep. John Joyce of Pennsylvania - whose 13th District would have been affected by a since-halted effort to combat the disease by culling deer, according to local outlet WJAC-TV - announced he would co-sponsor the legislation this week.

The disease affects the central nervous system and animals can show signs of drastic weight loss, lack of coordination and listlessness.

Cases of the disease have also been reported in Canada, Norway and Finland.

Meanwhile, another type of prion disease - referring to the pathogenic agents thought to be at the root of such conditions - is mad cow disease.

If your animal tests positive for CWD, do not eat meat from that animal. It was first found in captive deer in the U.S.in the 1960s and later discovered in wild deer in the early '80s.

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As of January, the CDC says cases of chronic wasting disease in free-ranging members of the deer family had been reported in 251 US counties in 24 states, including Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, New York, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Still, experimental studies "raise the concern that CWD may pose a risk to people and suggest that it is important to prevent human exposures to CWD". He says it doesn't appear the deer escaped, but he believes the farm is the likely source of the infection.

Currently, the disease occurs in free-range deer and elk at relatively low rates, but in areas where it is established the infection rate may exceed 10 per cent and localized infection rates of more than 25 per cent have been reported, according to CDC.

Another CDC recommendation: "Hunters harvesting wild deer and elk from areas with reported CWD should check state wildlife and public health guidance to see whether testing of animals is recommended or required in a given state or region". The infection rates among some captive deer can be much higher, with a rate of 79% (nearly 4 in 5) reported from at least one captive herd.

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