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Missouri Department of Conservation working to combat chronic wasting disease

The MDC is working to crack down on chronic wasting disease (CWD). (KTVO/Ashley Hoak)

The Show-Me State's largest hunting event, firearms deer season, kicked off Saturday morning.

While hunters are on the lookout for big game, the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) is on high alert for a different reason.

The MDC is working to crack down on chronic wasting disease (CWD).

Missouri Department of Conservation Forestry Regional Supervisor Danny Hartwig says CWD is a fatal disease that causes a degeneration of brain tissue in deer.

"Chronic wasting disease is a misfolded protein, basically. It's a prion disease that affects the brain, and basically causes the brain to turn into a sponge, and the deer becomes emaciated and just wastes away, as the name says."

Symptoms of CWD include excessive salivation, drooping ears, tremors and change in behavior.

The Missouri Department of Conservation first began monitoring the state's free-ranging deer for CWD in 2001.

Adair, Putnam, Knox, Sullivan and Macon counties are five of the 31 Missouri counties where CWD has previously been detected.

During opening weekend, mandatory CWD sampling locations have been set up in those 31 counties.

One of the locations includes the NEMO Fairgrounds in Kirksville.

When coming to one of the sites, hunters are asked to bring the entire deer carcass, or just the head with 6 inches of neck attached.

CWD sampling takes only a few minutes, and consists of cutting an incision across the throat of harvested deer to remove lymph nodes for testing.

Hartwig says collecting samples helps in managing CWD.

"[We are] trying to find the disease early so we can apply management to those specific areas where we find the disease. Without the help of hunters and collecting this many samples, we'd have a tough time having a good idea where the disease might or might not be."

Both the testing and results are free.

"If we find a positive, that's what we call a positive sample for chronic wasting disease, we will then notify that person that harvested the deer so that they can take the precautions of not eating the deer."

The MDC says opening weekend of the firearms deer season is the most popular two hunting days for most deer hunters.

Hunters take about a third of the state's total annual deer harvest during those two days.

Focusing on opening weekend gives the MDC the best opportunity to collect the most tissue samples during a very concentrated period of time.

Area sampling locations will be open from 7:30 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. on Sunday, November 11.

To learn more about CWD testing, or to find a MDC sampling location, click here.

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