Conservation officials have found 28 cases of chronic wasting disease among deer tested in Missouri since July 1.

The Missouri Department of Conservation, which collected the majority of samples Nov. 13-14, is also testing deer for COVID-19 antibodies. Those antibody results aren’t yet available.

Chronic wasting disease, or CWD, is an illness that was first observed in Missouri in late 2012. CWD is a deadly malady, sometimes called “zombie deer disease” because of its neurological effects. These effects include severe weight loss and strange behavior, according to the Conservation Department.

During opening weekend for firearms hunting, testing was performed in 34 counties considered “at risk” for CWD.

Almost 19,000 lymph node tissue samples from deer were collected. Most positive tests were found after Sept. 15.

Jasmine Batten, Conservation Department wildlife health program supervisor, said CWD appeared in Barry and Christian counties for the first time. Barry had three cases and Christian had one.

None of the positive tests were found in Boone County or in any neighboring counties, according to the CWD Management Zone Map.

“Any time we are seeing spread of CWD into new areas of the state it is highly concerning for us. In terms of the southwest portion of our state, it’s not a surprise, especially given the extent of Arkansas rate of CWD infections,” Batten said.

At this point, there has been no evidence to indicate humans can become sick by eating deer that have CWD or COVID-19 antibodies, Batten said.

However, she added that there are a lot of unknowns, and residents who are in an area where CWD has been detected should get deer tested before consuming it. This is also a recommendation from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Conservation officials increased surveillance in some southwest Missouri counties beginning in 2017.

Batten said the response plan is evolving as circumstances change and new information becomes available, and that CWD management is in place to hopefully help slow the spread of the illness.

Beyond CWD, the department is also testing some of these deer for COVID-19 antibodies.

A few months ago, a report from the United States Department of Agriculture came out that found COVID-19 antibodies in deer in Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York. This sparked the department to prepare to test deer in Missouri.

Over 150 testing kits have been given out to employees of the department, many of whom are hunters and will be testing their own deer. Batten said that about three dozen samples have already been collected. The department recently found out that its funding and sampling plans have been approved by the USDA.

In the next few months, the Conservation Department hopes to finish testing for COVID-19 antibodies and send the kits off to the USDA. In addition, the CWD testing will continue to be reported throughout the rest of the season as the department gets samples from taxidermists and meat processors.

  • Reporter, fall 2020 Studying convergence investigative journalism Reach me at ermvpb@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5700.

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