The Missouri Department of Conservation will increase surveillance for chronic wasting disease in six Southwest Missouri counties, given that 88 cases have been found so far this year in deer and elk in four northern Arkansas counties.
MDC, which made the announcement last week, said the targeted counties are all within a 50-mile area of the positive Arkansas tests.
So far, the disease has been found in four counties in Arkansas — Newton, Madison, Pope and Boone, but more testing is being done in that state, according to Keith Stephens, chief of communication for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
“We expect to find others, but we don’t have anything confirmed yet,” he told the Globe last week.
The Missouri counties that will be the focus of the surveillance area are Barry, Christian, Douglas, Ozark, Stone and Taney.
Arkansas officials confirmed their first positive test in February on an elk that was killed near Pruitt along the Buffalo National River in October. It was the first positive test for CWD in Arkansas. Since then, positive tests also have been confirmed on three other elk and 84 white-tailed deer, said Stephens.
This spring, MDC announced it had increased efforts in parts of southern Missouri to collect samples from sick and road-killed deer, but none of those have been positive.
According to Tim Russell, MDC wildlife regional supervisor for the southwest corner of the state, Missouri has confirmed 27 cases of CWD — all in deer — since it began testing for the disease throughout the state in 2002.
The first positive test was in 2010. Those cases were found in counties in the northeast, central and east-central portions of the state. Missouri has tested more than 51,000 deer so far.
CWD is a a neurological disease that infects only deer and other members of the cervid family by causing degeneration of brain tissue, according to authorities with both states.
When asked if Arkansas has identified a cause or a source, Stephens said last week, “We don’t have a ground zero.”
“We are going to try to contain it,” he said. “This is more important to us right now.”
Neither Missouri nor Arkansas allow the importation of pen-raised deer.
Stephens asked anyone who sees a deer acting strangely — separate from the herd, drinking a lot of water, foaming at the mouth or excess salivation — to contact authorities.
Other signs of the disease could be emaciation, lack of coordination or even paralysis, according to Russell.
MDC asks anyone who sees a deer portraying signs of illness or abnormal behavior to call their local MDC office or contact the county’s conservation agent. The more details callers can provide (the animal’s sex, location, picture of video images, etc.), the better the deer can be located and the situation assessed.
While there is no evidence that CWD may infect humans, both states advise hunters to avoid eating animals that have the disease.
The AGFC also has scheduled 11 public meetings throughout the state Tuesday through Thursday to discuss chronic wasting disease and regulations being proposed in an effort to manage the disease.
The nearest of those to Southwest Missouri will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Pauline Whitaker Animal Science Center, 1335 West Knapp Ave., at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
More CWD information can be obtained by calling MDC’s Southwest Regional Office in Springfield. Information on CWD can also be found at mdc.mo.gov.