A deadly disease that strikes deer now has made its way to Dubuque County.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources announced Friday that a deer hit and killed about 2.5 miles outside of Dubuque recently tested positive for chronic wasting disease. The deer-specific, always-fatal neurological ailment results in emaciation, abnormal behavior and loss of body functions.
It marks the first time the disease has been confirmed in the county.
Thirteen other deer — eight in Allamakee County, four in Clayton County and one in Wayne County — killed in the fall also recently tested positive. Two more deer in Wayne County are suspected of having CWD, but test results have not been received yet.
“It’s not that surprising,” said Terry Haindfield, CWD coordinator for the Iowa DNR. “The problem wasn’t the number of deer we reported. It’s that they are in new locations.”
Although there is no strong evidence that CWD can spread to people, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises people to not eat meat from infected animals.
The DNR reports that more than 6,800 tissue samples have been collected in Iowa during the 2018 deer season, as officials seek to monitor the spread of CWD. Those samples come from either deer killed by hunters or by vehicles.
“Hunters are doing an excellent job harvesting deer and providing samples in our priority areas, areas where the disease had been confirmed before,” said Todd Bishop, chief of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Bureau, in a statement. “We want to slow this down as best we can while still having high-quality deer hunting, hoping science can provide some solutions down the road.”
The deer that tested positive in Dubuque County was roadkill found along U.S. 52, about 2.5 miles south of Dubuque.
Haindfield said it is impossible to know where the deer came from, but he speculates it crossed the Mississippi River from Wisconsin.
“That seems like the most likely story to me,” he said. “There’s no way we will actually know, though.”
While Dubuque County was only the fourth county in Iowa to have a CWD-positive deer, such animals have been confirmed in 55 Wisconsin counties, including in all of them in the southwest part of the state. State officials have identified Iowa and Dane counties as one of two areas in the state with the highest concentration of such deer. For example, Iowa County had about 250 deer test positive in 2017.
Meanwhile, an Illinois DNR report issued in October noted that CWD is “firmly established” in Jo Daviess and Stephenson counties and “appears to be worsening.”
Regardless of the origin of the Dubuque County deer, Haindfield said the Iowa DNR now will work to prevent further proliferation. Officials plan to hold a public meeting in Peosta next week to discuss the disease, and Haindfield said the DNR likely will ramp up testing efforts in an area that includes where the infected deer was found.
CWD also is spreading in Clayton County. Staff officials established a CWD management zone northwest of Elkader after the county’s first deer tested positive in 2016. Three of the deer that recently tested positive were found inside this zone, but the other was one mile outside of it, Haindfield said.
While state officials intend to work to combat the disease’s spread, Haindfield said it is likely that more deer with CWD will be found in Dubuque County.
“When you find one, you usually find more,” he said. “We just need to try to reduce it from spreading any farther.”
Mike Laugesen, a Dubuque County resident and longtime hunter, said Friday that he also wasn’t surprised to see that CWD has made its way to the county.
“It’s been up north for so long, so it seemed like it would eventually come down here,” Laugesen said.
Laugesen said he is not sure if he will have the deer he shoots tested, but he worries about its impact on the animals.
“You can tell if a deer has it,” Laugesen said. “It’s going to have a health impact on the local population, which is a shame.”
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