SIKESTON -- Deer hunters in Scott and Stoddard counties will have the option of taking part in the second installment of the Missouri Conservation Department's testing of chronic wasting disease when firearms deer hunting season begins next month.
"Right now, we don't see a problem with chronic wasting disease," said Leother Branch, Missouri Conservation Department agent for Scott County. "We're trying to keep on top of it so if it does occur, we can try to control it, but we tested close to 6,000 deer last year and none of them came back positive."
Chronic wasting disease is a fatal neurological disease found in deer and elk.
"It's a disease in which animals lose a significant amount of weight, become stumbling in coordination and receive paralysis of throat muscles to where they can't swallow effectively," said Bretaigne Jones, a staff veterinarian in the Division of Animal Health for the state Department of Agriculture.
She continued: "And because of that, some animals will develop pneumonia. It's a respiratory problem."
Like last year, which was the first year of chronic wasting disease testing in Missouri, the department is trying to gather samples from 200 deer in each of 30 counties.
During the firearms deer hunting season Nov. 15-25, the agency hopes to take tissue samples from deer in Audrain, Barry, Boone, Buchanan, Cass, Dallas, Daviess, Dent, Gentry, Grundy, Harrison, Knox, Lewis, Macon, Maries, Marion Mercer, Miller, Newton, Nodaway, Oregon, Osage, Ray, Saline, Scott, Ste. Genevieve, Stoddard, Washington, Webster and Worth.
"We'll have folks who have gone through training at each check station. It's more of a voluntary-type program. Hunters will have the option to let us go ahead and test the deer and send (the sample) off to a laboratory," Branch said.
Wink's Convenience in Miner, the Scott City Police Department and J&B Tackle in Chaffee are Scott County's three disease testing sites. For Stoddard County, BJ's Quick Shop in Puxico, Lorch Oil in Advance and Stanfield's Hillbilly in Dexter will serve as testing sites.
Eric Kurzejeski, resource science supervisor for the Conservation Department, said in a recent statement the agency still has no indication that the disease is present in Missouri but is taking no chances.
Samples will be taken during the opening weekend of the season in most counties. Hunters who agree to let their deer be tested won't be delayed long at check stations.
"It should be much quicker than last year, and that only took about five minutes when we had to remove the heads (from the deer to obtain brain stem tissue for testing)," Kurzejeski said in the statement.
This year the procedure will use samples from the deer's retropharyngeal lymph nodes, which are located in the back of deer's throats.
Tissue samples from all the deer will be sent to a federal laboratory in Wyoming. Test results will be released as soon as all tests are complete. Last year's tests took nearly five months to complete, because of the large volume of samples from many states and limited laboratory capacity.
"One of the problems we have with this is that we don't want to be killing otherwise healthy animals just to be checking for the disease," Jones pointed out.
Researchers are working on other methods of testing such as a blood test, Jones said. However, the blood test has not been proven or licensed by the USDA, she said.
"Hunters who come across any deer that are apparently sick should contact their local conservation agent immediately," Branch recommended.
Some symptoms hunters should look for are deer that are have a rough coat or a marked weight loss.
"Currently there is no treatment or vaccines to prevent the disease," Jones said. "Generally it takes at least 1-1/2 years before the animal begins showing symptoms. When the symptoms start, they die within a matter of months because they basically starve to death."
The disease is believed to be passed horizontally, or among herd mates, Jones said. White tail deer, mule deer, elk and elk-hybrids are the only species susceptive to the disease, she said, adding that it doesn't affect cattle or any other species and has not proven to crossover to people and other livestock.
Missouri counties where deer were tested last year were Andrew, Bates, Bollinger, Caldwell, Callaway, Carroll, Chariton, Christian, Clark, Clay, Clinton, St. Francois, Franklin, Greene, Holt, Jasper, Jefferson, Johnson, Madison, Monroe, Pike, Platte, Ripley, St. Clair, St. Louis, Scotland, Sullivan, Taney, Texas, and Warren.
Next year samples will be collected from counties not checked this year or last year.
"The overall support of the program has been taken seriously, and hunters have really been supportive of our efforts," Branch said. "The purpose of the testing is to prevent and detect the disease from entering the state."