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OKLAHOMA CITY – An Oklahoma state agency is considering a rule change in order to protect deer and elk populations from a deadly disease.

Currently, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is proposing adding language to its rules that deal with the import, transport or possession of deer carcasses and live deer to help protect Oklahoma’s deer and elk populations from chronic wasting disease.

“Oklahoma deer hunters may have heard about chronic wasting disease afflicting deer and elk in other states. ODWC has been following the progress of CWD for decades and is making preparations in case the disease is detected in the state’s wild herd,” said Micah Holmes, Information Supervisor for ODWC.

Chronic wasting disease is a neurological disease that attacks the brains of deer, elk, moose and other members of the deer family. The disease creates holes in the brain, which is always fatal to the animal. It is a slow-progressing disease with a long lag between infection and visible symptoms.

Infected animals began to lose weight, lose appetite and develop an insatiable thirst. They tend to separate from the herd, walk in repetitive patterns, stumble or tremble, carry their head low, salivate, urinate frequently and grind their teeth.

At this point, no treatment or vaccine exists.

The disease is spread when animals are in close contact, and when they contact soil that contains protein particles from urine, feces, saliva or an infected animal’s carcass.

Officials say chronic wasting disease has been confirmed in wild deer and elk in every state surrounding Oklahoma.

So far, the disease has never been confirmed in a free-ranging wild deer or elk in Oklahoma.

In 1998, the disease was confirmed in a captive elk herd in Oklahoma County that was imported from Montana. The U.S. Department of Agriculture euthanized the herd to decrease the threat of the disease spreading to other herds.

“ODWC takes disease issues very seriously because of the potential effects to the state’s rich hunting traditions, the risk to natural resources, and the $680 million impact hunting has annually on the state’s economy,” Holmes said. “ODWC’s primary objective is to minimize the risk to Oklahoma’s wild deer, elk and other susceptible cervids within the state’s borders.”

At this point, the agency says it is working with the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry to monitor the state’s herds.

Officials say the risk of introducing the disease to new areas increases as hunters move deer and elk carcasses.

“The most effective way to prevent CWD from spreading, while still providing out-of-state hunters reasonable accommodations for transporting their game back home, is to require them to transport only de-boned meat, and cleaned skulls, antlers, teeth, and hides that are completely free of any soft tissue,” he said.