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Chronic wasting disease detected in a deer in Great Falls

Mule Deer (MTN News file photo)
Posted at 9:00 AM, Feb 08, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-09 01:34:15-05

GREAT FALLS — Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks said in a news release that chronic wasting disease (CWD) was detected in a mule deer buck found dead within the city limits of Great Falls in January.

The agency said the adult buck was seen acting abnormally by a property owner, who later found the dead deer inside a building on the property. Biologists collected samples from the deer, and they were confirmed to be positive for CWD in two separate laboratory tests.

This is the first confirmed case of CWD within Great Falls city limits. A mule deer buck harvested by a hunter in Hunting District (HD) 405 about 15 miles east of Great Falls near Belt was confirmed to have CWD late last year.

Joshua Schatz, the CWD Region 4 coordinator, explained, "It's transmitted through saliva or other physical means. The larger the herd, the more easy it would be for it to spread."

CWD is not a virus or bacteria, so it can not be fought off by anti-bodies.

Schatz said, "It's a protein that's been misfolded, so it is misfiled enough that it still tries to attach to receptors and the nervous system. It might attach but it's not really sending that signal it's supposed to be sending. So, after 17 months or so, there is enough of these misfolded proteins that it starts blocking too many receptors. That's when the nervous system is not really functioning."

The side effects overlap with other diseases, Schatz said: "Just visually seeing it, there's not for sure a way to tell which is why we have hunters bring us samples."

CWD is always fatal, and there is no known cure. It was first detected in Montana’s wild herds in 2017. The disease is known to exist in other parts of north-central Montana, especially north of Highway 2, as well as in other areas of the state.

FWP has conducted rotating surveillance for CWD throughout the state for several years, and HD 405 and the city of Great Falls are within the priority surveillance area for testing. FWP asks property owners in the Great Falls area to avoid feeding deer and other wildlife, since unnatural concentrations of wildlife increases the risk of spreading CWD and other diseases.

The federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention recommends that people not eat meat from infected animals, and to have their harvested animals tested before eating them if they were taken from an area where CWD is known to exist. Click here for more information about CWD.