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ST. LOUIS (AP) — The number of confirmed cases of chronic wasting disease in Missouri deer rose last year, but an expert with the state Department of Conservation said aggressive management efforts are helping to contain the spread.

Wildlife disease coordinator Jasmine Batten said 15 deer tested positive for chronic wasting disease out of 19,500 tested since July. There were nine cases in the state last year.

About 16,000 deer were tested over the first two days of the firearm deer season in November. Other tested deer include road kill in high-risk areas, deer killed by landowners and deer found dead from apparent illness.

Diseased deer were found in eight counties spread across the state: Four in Linn, three in Franklin, two each in Macon and Ste. Genevieve, and one each in Cedar, Jefferson, Polk and St. Clair counties.

Fifty-seven deer with the fatal brain disease have been found in Missouri since 2012.

Batten said the numbers could be far worse, since more than 330 deer with chronic wasting disease have been confirmed in northwestern Arkansas, near the Missouri border. Neighboring Illinois has reported 685 diseased deer since 2003. Also, the number of cases in northeastern Missouri, where the disease was first spotted in the state, has declined in recent years.

“The earlier we’re detecting the disease out there, the more likely we are to successfully manage it,” Batten said. “We focus really heavily first on prevention. When we find the disease we have a number of regulations we put in place to keep the disease from spreading to new parts of the state.”

Chronic wasting disease was first recognized in captive mule deer in Colorado in the late 1960s. It affects deer, elk and moose populations in 24 states and two Canadian provinces.

Infected deer often suffer dramatic weight loss and may drool, stumble around or appear listless. The disease is typically transmitted from deer to deer through direct contact or from saliva, urine or feces left on plants or the soil.

The disease is similar to mad cow disease, as both are caused by infectious proteins called prions. But unlike a variant of mad cow disease, there have been no reported cases of chronic wasting disease infecting people.

Still, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health and wildlife organizations caution against eating meat from diseased deer. Batten said hunters in areas where the disease has been found should have deer meat tested by a lab before eating it. Testing typically takes six to eight weeks.

“Because there are uncertainties about this disease still, the common-sense precaution is to take a little extra care,” Batten said.