Chronic wasting disease rattling Iowa officials, hunters

Published 8:06 am Friday, October 4, 2019

DUBUQUE, Iowa — Iowa game officials and deer hunters are taking extra precautions this season in the wake of an emerging threat of a chronic fatal disease affecting deer.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has said it plans to collect as many deer samples in northeastern Iowa as it can this hunting season to test for chronic wasting disease after the first case in Dubuque County was confirmed in January, the Telegraph Herald reported Thursday.

Chris Ensminger, wildlife research section supervisor for the department, said officials want to collect at least 250 samples from area in which the diseased deer was killed and at least 250 samples from elsewhere in Dubuque County. Samples also will be collected from surrounding eastern Iowa counties.

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“What we’re trying to find out now is the prevalence,” Ensminger said. “Hopefully, we won’t find any more infected animals.”

The disease attacks the brains of deer and elk and is always fatal. No human cases have ever been recorded, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises people to not eat meat from infected animals.

The disease has become increasingly prevalent in parts of the Midwest, including Wisconsin and Minnesota.

“Everybody talks about it,” said Mike Laugesen, who hunts in northeast Dubuque County. “We’re definitely fearful of it.”

Laugesen said many Iowa hunters worry that the disease will become as prevalent in Dubuque County as it is in southwest Wisconsin.

Nearly 400 of the 1,060 deer that tested positive for the disease in Wisconsin from April 2018 to the end of March were in Iowa County in southwest Wisconsin. Other cases came from surrounding Crawford, Grant and Lafayette counties.

The disease also has some meat processors wary of accepting deer.

Dan Wheeler, owner of Dan’s Locker in Earlville, Iowa, said he has limited his processing to deer meat that already has been cut away from the carcass — a step that reduces the risk of disease spread through leftover animal waste. He said he won’t accept any deer that has tested positive for the disease.

“If it is positive, I don’t want that in my plant,” Wheeler said. “It’s just not worth it to have that happen.”