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Deadly Infection For Deer Is Spreading In Missouri

A file photo of a deer showing signs of chronic wasting disesase
Terry Kreeger
Wyoming Game and Fish and Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance
A deer showing signs of chronic wasting disease, such as drooping ears and weight loss.

WAYNESVILLE — The Missouri Department of Conservation has confirmed that chronic wasting disease, an infection that slowly kills deer, is in Pulaski County.

The carcass of a deer taken in the county that is home to Fort Leonard Wood and parts of the Mark Twain National Forest tested positive last month. It's the 17th county with a confirmed case since the disease was first found in Missouri in 2010.

The disease has not been found to spread to humans, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises against eating meat of infected deer.

The infection rate is extremely low in Missouri, with a total of 163 cases confirmed in a state deer population that is more than 1 million. But the concern is that the disease is spreading, said Jasmine Batten, a wildlife disease biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

“Once chronic wasting disease is introduced to an area, if you don’t intervene and take some management actions, over time, it can spread widely,” Batten said.

Humans, specifically hunters, may be accelerating the geographic spread.

“Natural spread through deer to deer contact and deer dispersal is a concern,” Batten said. “But some of these jumps that we are seeing certainly could be an indication that humans are playing a role in helping move this disease across the landscape.”

Among the mitigation efforts the department has enacted are increased enforcement and information on deer baiting. Using grain or a similar bait to attract deer is already illegal to ensure a fair hunt, but it also adds to chronic wasting disease concerns.

“When you concentrate deer in a certain area, the spread of disease is more likely,” said Scott Corley, St. Louis regional protection supervisor for the Department of Conservation. “We don’t want to expand further through our deer herd.”

The department is also asking hunters who take deer in an area with known infections to keep the carcasses in the county, unless they are being directly transported to a taxidermist or processing facility.

Adding to the difficulty this year is COVID-19 safety precautions limiting gatherings, which has led the department to close mandatory carcass check-in stations in infected areas during the opening weekend of rifle season, which is Nov. 14-15.

Dozens of sampling stations where hunters can voluntarily bring their deer to be tested for chronic wasting disease will be open across the state.

Illinois also has several counties with confirmed chronic wasting disease cases, but those are all in the northern part of the state.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

Jonathan Ahl is the Newscast Editor and Rolla correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.