Chronic wasting disease found in 2 deer in SE Minnesota

Published 3:06 am Thursday, November 24, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS — Two deer shot by hunters near Lanesboro in southeastern Minnesota were infected with chronic wasting disease, marking the first detection of the fatal brain disease among wild deer in the state since 2010, wildlife managers said Tuesday.

One buck was confirmed as positive, while the confirmation on the second is expected this week, the Department of Natural Resources said. They were the only deer to test positive out of nearly 2,500 samples collected during the main firearms season, which ran from Nov. 5 to Nov. 13. Results are pending from 373 more samples collected during the second firearms season in the southeast, which opened Nov. 19 and runs through this weekend.

“The good news is we do think we caught it early,” Lou Cornicelli, the DNR’s wildlife research manager, said on a conference call with reporters.

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Once the agency gets those samples back, determines the outlines of the management zone it will impose and conducts aerial population surveys, Cornicelli said, it will try to reduce the zone’s deer population as much as possible to reduce the opportunities for spreading the disease deer-to-deer. That’ll likely involve a special firearms hunt in January and special permits for landowners, he said. Other restrictions will likely include a ban on feeding wild deer.

Chronic wasting disease is fatal to deer, elk and moose. It’s one of a group of degenerative brain diseases believed to be transmitted by abnormal proteins called prions that includes bovine spongiform encephalopathy, better known as “mad cow disease.”

While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have found no evidence of a health risk to people who come into contact with animals infected with chronic wasting disease or eat infected meat, the CDC advises against eating animals known to have it. The DNR has posted safe handling tips for hunters on its website.

The Minnesota Board of Animal Health already has set up a control zone with a 10-mile radius around where the two deer were found, which was 4 miles west of Lanesboro in Fillmore County. There are several deer or elk farms within that zone, and the owners won’t be allowed to move deer or elk in or out of the zone until the board gives the all-clear.

The DNR resumed CWD testing of hunter-harvested deer in southeastern Minnesota this fall because of a growing number of cases in Wisconsin, northeast Iowa and other Midwest states. The disease was first detected in Minnesota in 2009 on a domestic elk farm near Pine Island in southeastern Minnesota.