The malady, once found only in the brushy foothills near
Fort Collins, Colo., has now been identified in both captive
and wild herds of deer and elk in Kansas, Montana, Nebraska,
New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming
and the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Some states, like New Mexico, have found only one infected
animal in the wild. But Saskatchewan, for example, has
diagnosed the disease in more than 100 captive animals
bred for their meat and antlers.
At a two-day symposium on the disease, which began here
today, officials from the nine states and provinces described
where they were finding the disease and what they were
doing about it. Prevalence rates run from 0.002 percent
to more than 20 percent of animals surveyed. Over all,
a few hundred deer and elk have been diagnosed with the
disease out of tens of thousands killed for scientific
"We know that sick animals are the tip of the iceberg,"
said Dr. Michael Miller, a veterinarian who studies the
disease for the Colorado Department of Wildlife in Fort
Researchers do not know how the disease spreads among
animals in either the wild or in captivity, Dr. Miller
said, nor does anyone know how to control it. It may spread
directly from animal to animal, or through contact with
infected urine, feces or drool.
Many experts believe that the practice of selling captive
deer and elk, now banned in most states, is what led the
disease to spread from Colorado into neighboring states
as well as to Wisconsin, which is 1,000 miles east
too far for deer to walk.
The Saskatchewan outbreak was traced to an elk imported
from South Dakota in 1989. By October 2001, officials
said, 450 elk from Colorado had been shipped to farms
in other states, including 20 animals to Wisconsin.
The 20 elk exposed to chronic wasting disease were sold
to some of Wisconsin's 975 deer and elk farm operations,
said Dr. Julie Langenberg, a veterinarian at the Wisconsin
Department of Natural Resources. There have been 24 documented
escapes of captive white-tailed deer from these farms
in the last 30 months, Dr. Langenberg said, but the actual
number is probably much higher. No chronic wasting disease
has been found in any captive elk or deer in the state,
she added, but since last February, 24 wild white-tailed
deer have been found with the disease.
Wisconsin is taking aggressive steps to control the
disease, Dr. Langenberg said. Starting in mid-September,
hunters are encouraged to kill as many deer as possible
in the area west of Madison where most of the sick animals
have been found. In other parts of the state, hunters
will be asked to turn over deer heads for testing.
Chronic wasting disease is a close relative of mad cow
disease, which has led to the slaughter of hundreds of
thousands of cattle around the world and especially in
Britain, where the disease was first found.
A human form of mad cow disease, called new variant
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, has killed 125 people, mostly
Britons. Experts worry that chronic wasting disease might
also spread to humans who eat infected deer or elk, but
experts said at today's meeting that there is no evidence
this has happened in the United States.
Still, health officials in some states have urged hunters
to exercise caution when dressing meat from animals they