State agency to discuss rare disease impacting Texas deer

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas is home to 1,300 deer breeders, more than any other state, but after one confirmed case of chronic wasting disease last month, officials want to take action now.

Some 400 people are expected to turn out to a special meeting Thursday at Texas Parks and Wildlife, to find out what’s next. In June, a 2-year-old deer born in a Medina County breeding facility became the first captive animal in Texas to test positive for chronic wasting disease, often compared to mad cow disease.

One option includes killing some of the deer at the facility where the 2-year-old deer was detected with the disease.

“At this juncture, we’ve put a temporary prohibition on all movement of captive deer in the state — and again that’s out of an abundance of caution, both for the industry and for the wild deer,” said Carter Smith, executive director of Texas Parks and Wildlife. “Our goal is to quickly enact various sampling and surveillance protocols to make sure we can test affected facilities to try to get a better extent of the distribution of this disease, and once we have that information, then we can make informed decisions about what actions to take next.”

While lawmakers and officials work to stop the spread, some breeders are worried they could become overregulated. But officials with the Texas Animal Health Commission say there’s no need to panic.

“For the deer breeders, I would say please trust that we are approaching it as rapidly as we can and as systematically as we can, and I think we’ll arrive at some decisions that will be agreeable to the industry. And we are trying to protect and not overregulate,” said Andy Schwartz, with Texas Animal Health Commission.

“I think it’s important to remember that while this is very serious and while it has far-reaching implications, this is not a crisis,” Smith agreed. “We have a good plan in place. We have an expert team of epidemiologists, veterinarians, breeders and experts in the field that are helping us to conduct and assess the best risk management strategies, and I’m confident we will get this right.”

The meeting begins at 9 a.m. at the Texas Parks and Wildlife office.

In-Depth: Chronic wasting disease

The rare disease has some Texans worried because it could potentially impact millions of white-tailed deer, including the state’s economy. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, chronic wasting disease is considered deadly, and it can spread to other deer by animal-to-animal contact, or a contaminated environment.

The agency says chronic wasting disease poses no risk to people or domestic animals, but health officials warn hunters not to eat meat from animals known to be infected with the illness. Here’s a link for precautions and symptoms.

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