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Montana Awaits Chronic Wasting Disease That’s on Its Doorstep


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And there’s not much that can be done to contain its spread.

State wildlife officials in Montana are bracing for what they say is inevitable: The detection of chronic wasting disease among the state’s wild elk, deer and moose populations.

“We need to be prepared for when we get that first hit,” John Vore, the game management bureau chief for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said on Wednesday during a meeting, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported.

So far, the neurological disease, which prompts “spongy degeneration of the brain,” has been detected in animals in 24 U.S. states, including all those that border Montana, with the exception of Idaho. It's also been detected in the neighboring Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Animals carry the disease before becoming actively infected, but once that happens it’s always fatal.

A March 2017 map of CWD's footprint in North America. (via USGS)

Although there’s no evidence that chronic wasting disease can be passed from infected animals to humans, public health authorities advise limiting contact as risk is still being studied.

To Montana’s south in Wyoming, wildlife officials have tracked chronic wasting disease spread across the state, recently detecting it in a dead mule deal in Pinedale about 75 miles southeast of Jackson.

According to the Jackson Hole News and Guide:

Wyoming’s chronic wasting disease management plan calls for officials to reassess feeding operations and consult with federal land and wildlife managers when the disease shows up in any species near a feedground. The concern is that dense concentrations of elk drawn to hay all winter will exacerbate spread of the disease.

CWD has so far not been found in elk in the feedground region—mule deer have been the conduit for the spread.

There’s not much that can be done to contain chronic wasting disease once it takes root in a local area as prions, the infectious agent that transmit CWD, can survive in soil and vegetation.