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Deer hunters encouraged to participate in disease surveillance testing

From the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

-- Hunters who register deer in northwestern and southeastern Minnesota this fall are encouraged to allow Department of Natural Resources (DNR) staff to remove small tissue samples from their animals as part of a disease surveillance effort.

The DNR will have staff at selected deer registration stations to conduct bovine tuberculosis (TB) sampling in portions of the northwest and chronic wasting disease (CWD) sampling in portions of the southeast.

“It takes five minutes or less to collect a sample,” said Dr. Michelle Carstensen, DNR wildlife health program coordinator. “This small voluntary time commitment is important because it provides the big picture of what’s happening with the health of our deer herd.”

Hunters who provide samples will be given a DNR cooperator’s patch and will also be eligible to enter a Minnesota Deer Hunters Association raffle for a firearm.


The DNR will start its surveillance by collecting samples from hunter-harvested deer in northwestern Minnesota during the October early antlerless season. Lymph nodes, collected from the deer’s head, will be tested for bovine tuberculosis (TB) during the two- day hunt, Oct. 10-11.

DNR personnel will staff four deer registrations stations within and near Permit Area 101, including Grygla Co-op (Grygla), Riverfront Station (Wannaska), Olson’s Skime Store (Skime), and Fourtown Store (Fourtown), from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on both days of the hunt.

Bovine TB, a bacterial disease that primarily affects cattle, was first detected in northwest Minnesota in 2005. To date, this disease has been confirmed in 12 cattle herds and 26 free-ranging white-tailed deer.
“While we are still finding a few deer with bovine TB, the prevalence of the disease in deer is decreasing,” Carstensen said.

Last fall, nearly 1,250 hunter-harvested deer were sampled for bovine TB in northwestern Minnesota and none of the animals were found infected with the disease. Two deer were found infected this past winter within the 164-square mile bovine TB core area near Skime during deer removal efforts, which removed approximately 750 animals.

“That was good news,” Carstensen said. “Both deer found infected last winter were seven years old, adding further support to the theory that bovine TB is not being spread efficiently in the deer herd.”


The DNR intends to staff 23 registration stations during the Nov. 7-8 opening weekend of the firearms season, with select stations continuing to collect samples during the entire first week and second weekend of the hunt.
“Our sampling goal is to collect a total of 1,800 samples,” Carstensen said. “The only way to achieve that number is for hunters to participate in the program.”

Hunters should not be concerned about eating venison from deer harvested in the northwest.

The TB bacterium is very rarely found in meat (muscle tissue). Since bovine TB is primarily spread through respiration, the bacterium is generally found in lung tissue. As a precaution, all meats should be thoroughly cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F for 15 seconds. This effectively kills all known bacteria, including bovine TB and E. coli.


DNR staff will collect lymph node tissue samples at 24 deer registration stations and three meat processors in counties along the Wisconsin border and around the Rochester area. These tissues will be tested for CWD, an animal disease that was discovered in Wisconsin in 2002 and was recently discovered in a captive elk herd north of Rochester.

The DNR aims to collect 3,000 samples by staffing registration stations during four weekends in November. The DNR’s surveillance efforts will be assisted by University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine students.

The agency also will continue targeted surveillance, meaning it will investigate reports of live deer that appear to be sick and obtain samples if possible. The public is encouraged to report sick deer to their area wildlife office. To date, CWD has not been found in a wild deer in Minnesota. Since 2002, more than 30,000 deer have been tested for CWD statewide.

CWD is an infectious neurological disease that occurs in deer, elk and moose and belongs to a group of diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). Chronic wasting disease is progressively fatal and has no known immunity, vaccine or treatment.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other public health officials have concluded there is no link between CWD and any neurological disease in humans. The DNR is undertaking this year’s effort because of its presence within the captive elk herd and the proximity of southeastern Minnesota to free-ranging deer in Wisconsin.

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