Fatal deer disease closing in on Iowa - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Fatal deer disease closing in on Iowa


A threat may be looming for deer hunting in Iowa, which brings out some 200,000 hunters every year, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Deer hunting also accounts for nearly $200 million in retail sales in the state every year, DNR spokesperson Joe Wilkinson said.

The threat is chronic wasting disease (CWD), a rare but fatal condition for deer, elk and moose.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources announced this week it discovered a second deer in Grant County from outside the current chronic wasting disease management zone that tested positive for the disease. Grant County shares the Mississippi River as a border with Iowa.

All of Iowa's border states, in fact, have found wild deer with the disease. The US Centers for Disease Control have a MAP of all the counties and states in the US with instances.

There have been several deer found in Iowa that have tested positive for CWD, but those all came from enclosed game farms, not from the wild.

While CWD threatens deer populations, hunters and meat lockers have concerns about the venison.

This is the busiest time of the year for the Edgewood Meat Locker, with more than 3,000 deer carcasses coming in for processing.

"Deer season is why this building's here," Edgewood Meat Locker co-owner Terry Kerns said. "We do a lot of other stuff, but deer season has allowed us the volume to afford to buy the facility and the equipment that we need, which helps us in the beef and pork processing."

Kerns said he would be concerned if CWD were to hit Iowa's wild deer population. However, he said he has spoken with owners of meat lockers in states that do have cases of CWD.

"They've handled it and dealt with it and it's not devastated the industry," Kerns said.

Still, he's happy CWD has not yet appeared in Iowa's wild deer.

Deer spread the fatal disease to one another, but DNR spokesperson Joe Wilkinson said CWD isn't a clear threat to humans.

"Best science from Centers for Disease Control, the CDC...tells us that it does not jump species, so to speak," Wilkinson said.

Since 2002, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has sampled nearly 50,000 deer taken during hunting seasons. A lymph node and piece of brain stem are taken from the deer for testing.

"And then those are all sent down to a veterinary lab in Texas, where they're actually tested," Wilkinson said.

Since testing takes several months, Wilkinson said, a deer that tests positive for CWD could have already been processed and eaten before results are available.

The CDC says people should avoid eating meat from deer and elk that look sick or test positive for the disease. For hunters, that may mean getting a harvested deer tested for CWD before eating its meat.

Chronic wasting disease eats away at a deer's brain, so when it comes to eating venison, Wilkinson said, the DNR suggests people avoid the deer's brain, eyes and spinal cords. Fortunately, those aren't parts of the animal often found on the dinner table.

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