Chronic Wasting Disease one step closer to Iowa - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Chronic Wasting Disease one step closer to Iowa

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DUBUQUE (KWWL) -- Jo Daviess County, Illinois confirmed its first case of Chronic Wasting Disease.

This comes after the Iowa Department of Natural Resources targeted elk of an unknown origin in Allamakee County. The Department killed and tested the elk for Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD. A spokesperson said Friday none of the three elk tested positive.

Every state bordering Iowa has confirmed cases of CWD, which is a serious neurological, transmittable disease, mainly of deer, elk and moose.

If found in Iowa, the disease could drastically impact the state's hunting industry. Iowa DNR officials say the state has about 270,000 deer.

CWD first appeared in Illinois and Wisconsin in 2002.

Now, Jo Daviess County has its first confirmed case of CWD with a white-tailed deer harvested by a hunter in the fall. It came from near the border shared with Stephenson County, which has had three confirmed cases.

Tom Beissel is a regional wildlife biologist with the Illinois DNR and also heads the state's Chronic Wasting Disease Program.

"That result came back from the lab just about a month ago," he said, referring to the infected Jo Daviess County deer. "We are disappointed but not surprised."

He said aggressive preventative actions have slowed the spread of the disease in Illinois and kept prevalence rates from rising.

"Chronic Wasting Disease has been described as a disease in slow motion," Beissel said. "It doesn't just appear in high levels. It takes time for prevalence rates to get high."

Even though the Mississippi separates Illinois from Iowa, officials say that doesn't stop the spread of the disease. Studies show that deer on both sides of the river share similar genetic material, meaning both the deer - and the disease - can be on the move.

As far as prevention, Beissel said the Illinois DNR is re-opening and staffing a firearm check station in Jo Daviess County and all Illinois counties with confirmed cases of CWD. Firearm hunters will have to register their deer in person next firearm hunting season, instead of calling in to register as they've done for the past decade or so.

Beissel said the state shut down firearm check stations to save money, but re-opening them in CWD-positive counties will allow for more scrutiny of the harvested animals.

"Our protocol that we've established is to try and determine whether, indeed, it is a single animal that we're fortunate enough to harvest or if there is actually a disease that is established in that area, and the only way to do that is by sampling more deer," Beissel said of the Jo Daviess preventative measures.

He said the Illinois DNR is in the middle of a four-week effort, following the discovery of CWD in the county.

Officials are gathering a sample of 75 deer from a 25-square-mile area surrounding the location of the one infected deer. Beissel said testing that number of deer will allow the department to say with 95 percent confidence whether there's even trace amounts of the disease in the larger population.

He said conservation officers are shooting more than 30 deer from the testing area, with landowners' permission. The rest of the 75 deer are coming from samples of animals harvested in the fall hunting season.

To learn more about Chronic Wasting Disease and the Illinois DNR's efforts to slow its spread, check out the Illinois DNR Website.

Online Reporter Becca Habegger

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