Slowing the spread of disease

MU’s Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Lab screens harvested deer for chronic wasting disease.

This is a photo of deer samples being tested at the Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory.

MU's Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory works with the Missouri Department of Conservation to help protect deer as a food source for Missourians and slow the spread of chronic wasting disease.

Nov. 12, 2019

The Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory at the University of Missouri is helping to improve the testing of deer in Missouri after continued reports of chronic wasting disease. This illness is found in deer populations and affects the neurologic system, commonly causing chronic weight loss. Chronic wasting disease is fatal in all deer it infects, and left unchecked, has the potential to wipe out Missouri’s white tail deer population. Throughout Missouri, testing for the disease is vital and MU’s lab, housed in the College of Veterinary Medicine, is aiding statewide efforts by providing testing in a timely manner.

As a Level 1 laboratory in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Animal Health Laboratory Network, the MU laboratory tests more than 1,000 samples of deer tissue a day during the deer hunting season. The lab works with the Missouri Department of Conservation to help protect deer as a food source for Missourians and slow the spread of chronic wasting disease.

“Our partnership with the Missouri Department of Conservation to test for chronic wasting disease helps enhance the testing capacity and capabilities in our state,” said Shuping  Zhang, director of  the laboratory at MU.  "It also helps hunters know the results in a timely manner."

This rapid data collection allows the disease management team and researchers to gain more insight into chronic wasting disease and its potential to affect humans. While there have been no known cases to date of this disease infecting humans, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises people do not consume the meat of diseased animals.

The Missouri Department of Conservation requires all deer to be presented for testing that are harvested during the opening weekend of firearms season within the Chronic Wasting Disease Management Zone, totaling 29 Missouri counties. For 2019, the Chronic Wasting Disease Management Zone includes all counties within 10 miles of chronic wasting disease detections. Programs such as Share the Harvest, a system that makes it easier for hunters to donate surplus venison to low income individuals in Missouri, will only accept and package meat that tests negative from the 29 counties within the Chronic Wasting Disease Management Zone.

Voluntary chronic wasting disease sampling is available in several Missouri Department of Conservation offices and numerous taxidermists and meat processors throughout the state. A full list of these participating locations can be found on the Missouri Department of Conservation’s website.

“Encouraging hunters to test deer for chronic wasting disease will allow labs like ours to have a positive impact on the health of the state,” Zhang said.

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