Northwest Missouri Conservationists have been on the lookout for chronic wasting disease, which has touched Missouri’s deer population.
Although the disease is not as prevalent in Missouri as other states, it is deadly and can linger even after affected animals have died.
Chronic wasting disease is a prion disease that affects cervidae or the deer family, like elk, reindeer, sika deer and moose. It has been located in 24 states across the U.S.
It can take over a year before an infected animal develops the symptoms, which include dramatic weight loss (wasting), stumbling, listlessness and other neurologic symptoms. CWD is fatal to all animals that are infected.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the disease is believed to be transmitted between animals through body fluids like feces, saliva, blood or urine, either through direct contact or indirectly through environmental contamination of soil, food or water.
Assistant professor Jay McGhee said it’s much more prevalent in herds.
“The likely of transmission is going to be much greater when deer are congregated together,McGhee said. “Any kind of food plots that draw deer in are much more likely to allow for infection or transmission.”
Experts say CWD prions can remain in the environment for a long time, so other animals can contract CWD from the environment even after an infected deer or elk has died.
Conservation Agent Nate Carr said the goal right now is to minimize the disease’s effects in the core areas where conservationists know it has affected deer.
There have been no cases of CWD found in northwest Missouri to date. It is still rare, even in areas that it is known to occur in Missouri.
President of the Wildlife Society Taylor Jones said hunters are an integral part of conservation.
“It’s really going to be the hunters that are the eyes and ears for the conservation department on cases of CWD being found because they can’t be everywhere at the same time,” Jones.
Hunters must consider many factors when determining whether or not to eat meat from deer harvested from known areas with CWD, including the level of risk they are willing to accept.
“During the opening weekend of gun season which will be Nov. 16 and 17, if you are hunting in that CWD zone, you are required to take all the deer you shoot to a sampling station for those two days,” Carr said.
According to the CDC, hunters of wild deer from areas with reported CWD should check state wildlife and public health guidance to see whether testing animals is recommended or required in a given state or region. In areas where CWD is known to be present, the CDC recommends that hunters strongly consider having those animals tested before eating the meat.
The conservation department has placed some regulation changes that may affect hunting strategies. One of them has been removing their antler point restriction, to allow people to harvest deer. Another restriction placed on the hunters is the placing of any kind of mineral or salt and grain in the offseason, which is restricted year round.
Carr said the conservation department’s goal is to minimize that deer-to-deer contact as much as possible, which could then affect people's hunting strategies.
“It is still a rare disease in Missouri, so there is no cause to reduce hunting activity out of fear for the disease,” McGhee.