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2 more wild deer in Minnesota test positive for chronic wasting disease

The Minnesota DNR calls this "concerning."

Two more wild deer have tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Minnesota, bringing the total number of CWD-positive wild deer in Minnesota to 95. 

“It’s concerning to see these two positive test results. We will continue gathering data to see how prevalent the disease is in these areas, and maintain our aggressive management response,” Michelle Carstensen, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resource's wildlife health program supervisor, said in a Thursday news release.

One of the deer – an adult male – that tested positive for the fatal neurological disease was killed by a hunter in Dakota County on Nov. 7. 

This case marks the first time CWD has been detected in a harvested deer in the south metro disease management zone, which was established this past spring. 

The hunter provided the deer sample as part of the DNR's voluntary sampling program (it went voluntary this year due to COVID-19 – read more details here). The DNR notes the deer was killed less than a mile from where a CWD-positive wild deer was discovered in March. 

The other newly found CWD case involves an adult female deer in Olmsted County who died after apparently suffering an injury from a vehicle crash. A Rochester resident who reported the dead deer brought its carcass to be sampled by the DNR for CWD testing. 

This case is the farthest northeast CWD has been found in the southeast disease management zone, the DNR says. 

In both instances, the hunter and resident have been informed the deer tested positive and the meat and carcasses from the deer have been disposed of properly, the DNR says. Although CWD cannot spread from deer to humans, the DNR doesn't recommend eating the meat of a CWD-positive deer. 

“We’re grateful to hunters and other Minnesotans for providing samples to test for this disease and help safeguard the health of our wild deer population,” Carstensen said. “These two positive test results are unfortunate, but highlight the importance of our sampling efforts in getting information that shows us how prevalent the disease is in an area. We urge hunters to continue bringing deer to sampling stations. Every sample counts.”

The DNR has a goal of keeping the state's wild deer population healthy, and sampling and testing deer for CWD is a big part of that. Since CWD was first detected in Minnesota in 2002, the department has tested more than 90,000 wild deer. 

In previous hunting seasons, hunters who killed a deer in one of the state's CWD management zones and surveillance areas were required to register their deer, complete CWD sampling tests, and keep the whole carcasses within the zone until it's given the all-clear. 

But this year, the DNR shifted to a voluntary sampling program due to the COVID-19 pandemic and has "strongly encouraged" hunters to turn in the heads of the deer they hunt in the CWD zones to be tested.

Earlier this month, the DNR said there was a lower than anticipated number of samples submitted during the opening weekend of the firearms deer season. The department said hunters who still have heads from deer harvested this season can drop them off at sampling stations.

“Every test result, whether CWD is detected or not, is important because it shows us where the disease is,” Barbara Keller, DNR’s big game program leader, said in a Nov. 12 news release. “We use this information to help us determine where we should target our management, keeping our efforts focused where the disease is most prevalent. It’s important for hunters to remember that even deer that look healthy can be positive for the disease.”

The DNR currently monitors for CWD in disease management zones around areas where CWD has been detected in wild deer. These management zones are in the southeast, north-central and south metro areas of Minnesota.

The department also monitors for the disease in its CWD surveillance areas where CWD has been found in captive deer. These zones are in the east-central, west-central and south metro areas of the state. 

CWD test results, including locations of confirmed positive test results and statistics, are available on the DNR's website.

More on CWD

CWD is found globally and in about half of the states in the United States. Although it's still relatively rare in Minnesota, it is a concern because there is no cure, the DNR says.

The Board of Animal Health says the disease is caused by prions, which can damage brain and nerve tissue. It's most likely spread when an infected deer or elk shed prions in saliva, feces, urine or other fluids or tissues.

CWD is not known to naturally occur in other animals, although eating meat from a CWD-infected deer is not advised. 

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