Officials say it's too early to tell whether disease that affects deer is spreading in Iowa

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DES MOINES, Iowa — It's too early to tell whether hundreds of quarantined deer in north-central Iowa testing positive for a degenerative neurological disease means it is spreading in the state, officials said Thursday.

There's no indication that chronic wasting disease is spreading in Iowa, according to Kevin Baskins, a spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources. The results mean officials will need to increase their testing of harvested deer in that area.

"We don't know what it fully means," he said. "But we know we need to increase our efforts to try to determine what it means."

More than 280 captive deer in Cerro Gordo County tested positive for the disease after they were killed in August as part of a scheduled culling, according to statistics released by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. More than 70 deer killed in the herd did not have the disease.

Baskins said it's the largest number of captive deer with the disease recorded in the state. They could only be tested after they were killed.

The herd had been quarantined since 2012, after a deer from the group was sent to an enclosed hunting preserve and tested positive for the disease. The area where the herd was kept will remain quarantined with a fence for five years as part of an agreement with the animals' owners to help disinfect any trace of the disease.

Dustin Vande Hoef, a spokesman for the agriculture department, said it was important to try to protect the wildlife deer in the area.

"We became aware of this. We quarantined the facility and then entered into a depopulation agreement with the owners. That's been our whole approach to try to make sure this herd stays contained."

Chronic wasting disease affects deer, elk and moose. There's no known treatment or vaccine, and it doesn't affect humans. Officials announced in April that one wild deer in Iowa had tested positive for the disease, and it was in Allamakee County. Just a handful of captive deer had tested positive for the disease before Thursday's announcement.

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