A white-tail deer found dead in February near Williston has tested positive for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). 14 deer have tested positive for CWD since 2009 in North Dakota. This, however, is the first documented case of a deer dying from CWD in the state.

Chronic Wasting Disease is a neurological disease that easily spreads among deer, elk, and moose. The affected animals experience severe weight loss and a range of neurological symptoms that cause them to be listless and unsteady on their feet. It can take over a year from the time a deer is infected to start showing symptoms.

Dr. Charlie Bahnson, a wildlife veterinarian for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, is the one who confirmed the deer’s prognosis. Bahnson said, “All 14 previous detections were perfectly healthy-looking deer that were hunter-harvested before they got sick. This deer was severely emaciated and had an empty digestive tract, which is unusual even in starvation cases that can occur in harder winters like this one. This deer stopped trying to forage some time ago.”

While this is the first documented case of a deer succumbing to CWD, Bahnson said it likely not the true “first” death. The disease has been present in Sioux and Grant counties for roughly 10 years. “This animal happened to die in an area where it was highly visible, and the carcass could be recovered in time for testing,” he said.

Over the course of this week, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department will collect additional samples through targeted removal. They will also amend their current CWD Proclamation. “In other areas of the country where CWD has reached a tipping point, finding sick or dead CWD-infected deer has become common,” Bahnson said. “We need to do everything in our power to ensure that doesn’t happen in North Dakota.”

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