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One topic of concern is chronic wasting disease and its slow spread throughout the US and Canada. Now found in 30 states! Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a prion disease that has no cure and is always fatal. It is similar to mad cow disease, but this fatal neurological disease occurs in cervids, such as deer, elk, and moose.

Recently, The Atlantic had an article about the spread of chronic wasting disease, and how it could ultimately result in the extinction of deer in the US. Some estimates already have the deer population down several million (for several reasons, not just CWD). Or perhaps deer populations will get decimated, with only some deer living and reproducing until the age of 2, and then dying.

This is because the disease can be transmitted before symptoms appear. It takes a while (more than a year) for a deer to show symptoms and die, and it can be passed to newborn fawns from the mother deer when she uses her tongue to groom the newborn.

Incredibly, the disease particles are shed into the environment (e.g., from deer feces) and stay in the soil for at least a decade. It can even be taken up by plants (thus it's in the leaves that deer eat) from the soil.

And yes, if you're wondering, scientists are very concerned that some day this incurable prion disease can make the jump to humans. So far it hasn't, but this is one reason why hunters are told to bring in deer heads for testing (and definitely to not eat deer meat until results come back negative).  Unfortunately, many people resist believing that there is a problem, and testing efforts vary from state to state.

Excerpts from The Atlantic: An Incurable Disease Is Coming for Deer

Jorge is leading a multiyear study at the University of Georgia on chronic wasting disease, an always-fatal neurological illness. Ubiquitous deer may be, but in CWD, they face a serious threat. From its first appearance in Colorado in the late 1960s, CWD has crawled steadily across the country. It is now found in more than 30 states and multiple Canadian provinces. ...continue reading "Deer Population Could Decline From Chronic Wasting Disease"