BILLINGS, Mont. — A deer killed by a hunter in southern Montana tested positive for infection with a deadly wildlife disease that’s not been seen before in the state, officials said Wednesday.
Further testing is pending on the mule deer killed about 10 miles southeast of Bridger near the Wyoming border.
If confirmed, it would be the first time chronic wasting disease has been detected in Montana wildlife.
The contagious disease affecting deer, elk and moose is caused by infectious proteins that can lead to organ damage and eventual death. It’s present in numerous states, from New York to Wyoming, and officials had said it was only a matter of time before it showed up in Montana.
Officials are considering a special hunt in the area where the infected deer was shot to help determine whether and how far the disease might already have spread.
There’s no evidence it can harm humans. But out of caution wildlife officials recommend that animals killed in areas with the disease be tested prior to consumption.
In other states, wildlife managers have taken dramatic preventative steps against chronic wasting disease, such as killing all deer and other susceptible animals in areas where infections were found, effectively creating a “wildlife desert” to prevent transmissions, said Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks spokesman Bob Gibson.
“That would be the most radical way to do it, if we needed to draw a line in the sand to keep (chronic wasting disease) from crossing it,” Gibson said. “That’s not even on our radar yet.”
The state on Tuesday had updated its response plan for chronic wasting disease with changes that are now open for public comment.