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Chronic wasting disease is found in Salt Lake County for the first time

A deer out in the wild.

Chronic wasting disease, or CWD, has been found in Salt Lake County for the first time. The relatively rare neurological disease affects deer, elk and moose populations. Virginia Stout is a veterinarian for the Utah Division of Wildlife.

“Chronic wasting disease has been in the state for a while, but it seems to be holding the same prevalence and locations. But recently it has spread to a new county. So what's significant about that is we just need more surveillance and more management in that new spot to try to decrease the spread even further,” Stout said.

CWD is caused by prions, infectious proteins, that are spread from deer to deer through saliva, urine and feces. It is always fatal to the animal.

“It takes a really long time for the prions to cause clinical symptoms. So we may move animals around or animals move themselves around, have the disease, spread it into the environment and nobody knows for sure if those deer are negative or positive. So the only real way to test is when they're dead we test the lymph nodes or the brain tissue itself,” said Stout.

Prions are the agents that also cause Mad Cow Disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans. Stout says that CWD has never jumped to people, but that the CDC has not ruled it out as a possibility.

“So we try to take as many precautions as we can to protect humans that hunt or eat game meat. And we do say to avoid spinal cord tissue, brain tissue, anything that concentrates the prions, but has been found in game meat itself. So it's not a complete, no risk situation. So that's why we recommend people to get their deer tested before they eat it,” Stout said.

To find CWD deer testing locations go to According to the website the testing only takes a few minutes.

Max is a neuroscientist and science reporter. His research revolves around an underexplored protein receptor, called GPR171, and its possible use as a pharmacological target for pain. He reports on opioids, outer space and Great Salt Lake. He loves Utah and its many stories.