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Deer Wasting A Concern For Virginia

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Virginia's Department of Game and Fisheries is seeking to contain an outbreak of chronic wasting disease amongst deer.
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Virginia's Department of Game and Fisheries is seeking to contain an outbreak of chronic wasting disease amongst deer.

In an effort to combat a chronic disease affecting deer, Virginia game officials are again collecting deer samples from hunters.

Chronic wasting disease is a contagious neurological disease that causes the brains of infected animals to fatally degenerate in spongey pockets. It's not caused by a virus or bacteria, but an infectious prion -- a self-replicating, abnormal version of a natural protein.

"When the body is exposed to this infectious abnormally shaped protein, it causes the prions already in the body to change shape," says Meghan Kirchgessner, wildlife veternarian for Virginia's Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. "And they accumulate in the neurons in the body and they can't escape."

The deer and elk version of the disease has been found in 19 states. Virginia's Department of Game and Fisheries is looking for it in a containment area spanning Shenandoah and Frederick counties. The department is asking that any deer killed in that area on Dec. 3 be brought to a designated sampling station. Kirchgessner says at this point, the state is just tracking the disease.

"There's not much we can do - there's no vaccine there's no medications there's no treatment."

The disease first appeared among captive deer in Colorado in the late '60s, probably, Kirchgessner says, through a particularly unfortunate mutation of a natural protein. The disease has been found twice in Virginia since 2009. It is not transmitted to humans.

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