Iowa DNR: "Zombie deer disease" found in eight Iowa counties

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Iowa (KWQC) - The Iowa Department of Natural Resources says chronic wasting disease, also known as "zombie deer disease," has been found in four new counties.

Officials with the DNR say the disease has been confirmed in wild deer from Woodbury, Winneshiek, Fayette and Decatur counties this year, bringing the total number of counties in Iowa where wild deer have tested positive to eight.

Animals with chronic wasting disease have a zombie-like stare and lose so much weight their rib cages are clearly visible.

"We will schedule meetings in these areas in the next few months to discuss chronic wasting disease, our response and the role hunters play in helping us to manage for this disease," said Tyler Harms, wildlife biologist with the Iowa DNR.

The disease is believed to spread via bodily fluids either by direct contact or through contaminated soil, food or water. It can be highly contagious within deer and elk populations and can spread quickly.

Officials say in the past, the DNR has set up a surveillance zone around where the positive deer was taken. It then works with hunters to increase the number of samples collected within the zone to get a better idea of the extent to which the disease is on the ground.

"Early detection is key," Harms said. "We want to increase the surveillance in close proximity to the positive deer to hopefully catch any other positives in the area. In these surveillance zones, we want to manage our deer herd toward the lower end of our population goal to help slow disease transmission."

The Iowa DNR submitted nearly 7,000 deer tissue samples from hunter-harvested or road-killed deer for testing in the 2019-2020 season. Of those samples, 43 tested positive for chronic wasting disease.

Officials say while the number of positives this year jumps out, it's not out of the realm of what they would expect.

The DNR has contacted all hunters with a positive deer and offered to come collect the deer meat, hide and other animal parts provided the hunters with other options for disposal.

The Centers for Disease Control advises against consuming animals that have tested positive for disease.

Officials say hunters who harvest deer in counties known to have chronic wasting disease should bone out their deer and either leave the carcass on the land where it was harvested.

The Iowa DNR has been testing deer for chronic wasting disease since 2002.

The first positive case was in 2013 near Harpers Ferry in Allamakee County. To date, there have been 89 positive wild deer.