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Fatal disease in animals across U.S. found in wild deer in new county

Wildlife managers have confirmed chronic wasting disease in a wild deer in a central Minnesota county -- marking the first discovery of the fatal brain disease among the state's wild deer outside the southeastern corner of the state.

The deer was found dead a half-mile from a farm where captive deer have tested positive for the disease, Lou Cornicelli, wildlife research manager for the Department of Natural Resources, said Friday. The farm is likely the source of the infection, he said.

The disease was previously found in Minnesota wild deer only in Fillmore, Houston and Winona Counties. This latest discovery was in Crow Wing County.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz will ask the Legislature for $4.57 million over the next two years and $1.1 million annually after that to combat the disease, which, as of January, was reported in free-ranging deer, elk and/or moose across at least two dozen states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Since 2000, the area known to be affected by CWD in free-ranging animals has increased to at least 24 states, including states in the Midwest, Southwest, and limited areas on the East Coast," the CDC says.   

The disease, which is progressive and fatal, "affects the brain, spinal cord, and many other tissues of farmed and free-ranging deer, elk, and moose," the CDC says. It was first found in captive deer in the U.S. in the 1960s and later discovered in wild deer in the early '80s.

The CDC urges hunters to avoid shooting, eating or handling meat from elk or deer that appear ill "or are acting strangely."  

While the CDC says it is unknown is people can be infected with CWD prions, infection would most likely come from eating animals that are infected.

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