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Study: Bleach Can Help Hunters Prevent Spread Of Chronic Wasting Disease

Chronic wasting disease is continuing to pop up in deer and elk populations around the Mountain West. But researchers have found one way to help prevent hunters from further spreading the neurodegenerative disease: household bleach.

All it takes is five minutes of soaking in a solution of 40% bleach and your hunting knife — and other metal meat-processing tools — will be disinfected, according to a new study published in the scientific journal PLOS One.

"This is good news for people who want to be extra cautious," said Brent Race, who led the study. Race is a staff scientist at Montana's Rocky Mountain Laboratories, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

Hunters need not lug buckets and bleach wherever they go, Race says, but if after butchering an animal it tests positive for CWD, "I'd certainly be going back and bleaching everything that I could that had contact with that animal."

Bleach can't disinfect actual bits of tissue, though.

While there have been no reported cases of CWD infection in people, the disease has the potential to cross the species barrier. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends not eating meat from a CWD-positive animal.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Distribution of chronic wasting disease in North America as of Oct. 1, 2019.
Distribution of chronic wasting disease in North America as of Oct. 1, 2019.

Copyright 2019 KUNC

Rae Ellen Bichell is a reporter for NPR's Science Desk. She first came to NPR in 2013 as a Kroc fellow and has since reported Web and radio stories on biomedical research, global health, and basic science. She won a 2016 Michael E. DeBakey Journalism Award from the Foundation for Biomedical Research. After graduating from Yale University, she spent two years in Helsinki, Finland, as a freelance reporter and Fulbright grantee.
Rae Ellen Bichell
I cover the Rocky Mountain West, with a focus on land and water management, growth in the expanding west, issues facing the rural west, and western culture and heritage. I joined KUNC in January 2018 as part of a new regional collaboration between stations in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming. Please send along your thoughts/ideas/questions!