JEFFERSON CITY – The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) will begin testing a limited number of free-ranging white-tailed deer for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in areas of Linn and Macon Counties. The effort is part of the Department’s response to a recently confirmed case of CWD by the Missouri Department of Agriculture (MDA) in a captive white-tailed deer at a private hunting ranch in Linn County. This is the first case of CWD detected in the state.

CWD is a neurological disease found in cervids, such as deer, elk and moose. It attacks the brain and results in extreme weight loss, excessive salivation, stumbling, tremors and eventually death. CWD spreads through animal-to-animal contact and through soil-to-animal contact. The clinical tests used to detect CWD in white-tailed deer require lymph node and brain tissue.

“Where CWD does occur, the disease typically has a 2-5-percent prevalence in the deer population,” said MDC State Deer Biologist Jason Sumners.

“As part of a cooperative response plan, we will focus our initial sampling of about 150 deer within a five-mile radius, or 138-square-mile area, around the ranch where CWD was confirmed,” explained Sumners. “This sample size is a small segment of the deer population in this area.”

The sample area will include the Mussel Fork Conservation Area and private land. The MDC will work with private landowners to get permission to shoot deer on their property.

“Landowners will be offered processed venison from deer harvested on their property,” explained Sumners. “Otherwise, the harvested deer will go to a local processor and the venison will be donated to Share the Harvest.”

He added that the MDC will complete these initial sampling efforts by the end of March and initial test results will be available several weeks later.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services states that there is no evidence CWD can infect people. The MDA states that current research shows there is no evidence CWD can spread from infected cervids to domestic livestock, such as sheep or cattle.

Sumners added that the MDC will work with hunters during this fall’s hunting seasons to collect tissue samples from harvested deer. The MDC will also collect samples from road-killed deer and other deer found dead. “These efforts are similar to what other states have used when CWD was found,” he said. “We also encourage people to report sightings of sick deer to their regional Conservation Office.”

CWD was first recognized in 1967 in captive mule deer in Colorado. It has been found in captive and free-ranging populations of deer and elk in 15 states and two Canadian provinces, including a number of locations in the Midwestern states of Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

While CWD is new to Missouri, the MDC and MDA have been testing for it for years. The agencies formed a state Cervid Health Committee in 2002 to address the threat of CWD to Missouri. This task force is composed of veterinarians, animal health officers and conservation officers from MDA, MDC, MDHSS and the US Department of Agriculture.

“Our proactive steps to put testing protocols in place and create a contingency plan years ago are proving beneficial,” said Sumners. “With the help of hunters, we have tested more than 24,000 free-ranging deer for CWD since 2002 from all parts of the state with no cases found. And we hope that continues.”

Missouri Department of Conservation CWD information is located online.