Wyoming, Colorado join forces on wasting disease

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) The Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Colorado Division of Wildlife plan to try to contain a brain-wasting disease found in deer and elk in southeast Wyoming and northeast Colorado.

Chronic wasting disease affects 14 to 15 percent of deer that range from Wheatland to Fort Collins, Colo.

Starting in January, Colorado will thin deer herds in an infected area, Todd Malmsbury of the Colorado Division of Wildlife said Tuesday.

Wyoming's deer population will act as a control group in the experiment, University of Wyoming professor Elizabeth Williams said.

''Right now we don't know if it's going to solve the problem,'' she said after giving an update on the disease to Wyoming Game and Fish Commission members.

Colorado Division of Wildlife veterinarian Mike Miller said the deer move from east to west near the Interstate 25 corridor.

The disease was first discovered in 1967 and also has been found in captive animals in Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma and two Canadian provinces.

Chronic wasting is in the same family as the so-called mad cow disease in Europe, which has been blamed for some human deaths in the United Kingdom.

Although it has not been proven transmissible to humans or other animals, people should be cautious about eating meat from animals that had chronic wasting disease, Williams said.

''It's not a good idea to eat the meat that's clinically affected,'' she said, but ''it doesn't mean we have to panic.''

Known officially as a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy disease, chronic wasting disease cannot be cooked off like salmonella, Malmsbury said. A clinical test of brain tissue is the only way to confirm the disease's presence.

Deer afflicted with the disease exhibit certain characteristics that hunters should be aware of including odd behavior, weight loss, hyper-salivation, poor coordination and excessive thirst and urination.

Most animals will be sick for several months before succumbing to the disease but the incubation period has been known to last up to four years.

Last year 20 deer and one elk were found to be infected with the disease, said Terry Kreeger, Game and Fish Department supervisor of veterinarian services.

Researchers are not sure how the disease is transmitted.

Researchers from Europe and throughout the country are working on the disease, Williams said.

Williams is working on two chronic wasting disease research projects to see if cattle are susceptible to the disease.

''What we can tell is that cattle appear to be fairly resistant,'' she said. The research is not yet complete, she said.

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