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ENVIRONMENT REPORT - September 27, 2002: Chronic Wasting Disease in Animals in U.S. - 2002-09-25

This is the VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT.

Chronic wasting disease is infecting large animals like deer and elk in several areas in the United States. The disease was first discovered in nineteen-sixty-seven at a wildlife research center in the western state of Colorado. It was identified as transmissible spongiform encephalopathy in nineteen-seventy-eight.

Biologists believe an abnormal form of a protein causes the disease. The protein infects tissue and spreads quickly. Chronic wasting disease causes weight loss and death in animals like deer and elk.

In the nineteen-eighties, the disease was found in wild deer and elk in Colorado and Wyoming. Wild groups of animals and deer raised on farms in other areas developed the disease. Today, chronic wasting disease is found in at least eight American states and two provinces of Canada.

Biologists are concerned about chronic wasting disease because it may be similar to mad cow disease, the common name of bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Mad cow disease can be spread to humans. The human form of the disease is called Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease. It causes brain damage that leads to death. The New York Times reports that about three-hundred Americans become infected with that disease each year.

Currently, there is no evidence that chronic wasting disease can affect humans. The United States Department of Agriculture also says it does not believe that the disease can be spread to other kinds of animals.

The middle western state of Wisconsin has found thirty-one wild deer infected with chronic wasting disease. The state has ordered that twenty-five- thousand deer be destroyed. It wants to test another twenty-five- thousand animals for the disease.

However, some people oppose destroying so many animals. They say less than three percent of the deer tested for the disease had it. They say it is impossible to completely destroy the disease in the wild.

Hunting for deer in Wisconsin is a huge industry. Experts say the disease will hurt the state’s economy. Also, many people who hunt for food may have to change their way of life. Experts say the spread of chronic wasting disease may affect the tradition of hunting in America.

This VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT was written by Mario Ritter.