BOISE (AP) — The suspected agents of a fatal brain disorder attacking deer and elk are worthy of a science fiction movie.

Rather than focusing on bacteria as the cause of chronic wasting disease, researchers are looking at rogue proteins, or prions, which destroy nerve cells.

Prions may alter other proteins, damaging the membranes of nerve cells. The disease eats microscopic holes in brain tissue, leading to dementia and death.

Prions can incubate in animals for more than 20 years before symptoms develop. They are resistant to sterilization. Traditional ways of killing bacteria in meat, such as boiling it, do not kill them. Even if infected animals are incinerated, prions may survive.

The disease is unsettling enough that health and wildlife officials in Wyoming and Colorado recommend hunters take care in the field, including avoiding animals that look emaciated or are stumbling and drooling.

Sportsmen also should wear latex gloves and protective eye gear when field-dressing animals, keep brain matter from coming into contact with the venison, and exercise care with skulls for trophy mounts by putting them in plastic bags and treating them with bleach.