Two deer shot by hunters near Lanesboro were infected with chronic wasting disease, marking the first detection of the fatal brain disease among wild deer in the state since 2010, wildlife managers said Tuesday.

One buck was confirmed as positive, while the confirmation on the second is expected this week, the Department of Natural Resources said. They were the only deer to test positive out of nearly 2,500 samples collected during the main firearms season, which ran from Nov. 5 to Nov. 13.

Results are pending from 373 more samples collected during the second firearms season in the southeast, which opened Nov. 19 and runs through this weekend.

“The good news is we do think we caught it early,” said Lou Cornicelli, the DNR’s wildlife research manager, on a conference call with reporters Tuesday.

CWD is a fatal brain disease to deer, elk and moose but is not known to affect human health. While it is found in deer in states bordering southeast Minnesota, it was only found in a single other wild deer in Minnesota in 2010.

The DNR discovered the disease when sampling hunter-killed deer this fall in southeast Minnesota as part of its CWD surveillance program.

“We were proactively looking for the disease, a proven strategy that allows us to manage CWD by finding it early, reacting quickly and aggressively to control it and hopefully eliminating its spread,” Cornicelli said.

It is unknown how the two deer, which were harvested four miles west of Lanesboro in deer permit area 348, contracted the disease.

They are the first wild deer found to have CWD since a deer harvested in fall 2010 near Pine Island tested positive.

The DNR already has begun implementing the state’s CWD response plan. Three additional testing stations were opened in Fillmore County last weekend, and electronic registration was turned off in two additional permit areas.

The DNR began CWD testing in southeast Minnesota again this fall in response to expanded infections in Wisconsin, Illinois, and northeast Iowa, as well as new and growing infections in Arkansas and Missouri.

Because much of southeast Minnesota’s land is privately owned, the DNR will work with landowners when collecting additional samples to assess disease distribution and reduce the potential for CWD to spread.

“Those decisions will be made after surveillance is done this hunting season,” Cornicelli said.

The DNR has been on the lookout for CWD since 2002, when the disease first was detected at a domestic elk farm in central Minnesota. Since, the DNR has tested approximately 50,000 deer, elk, and moose.

CWD is transmitted primarily from animal-to-animal by infectious agents in feces, urine or saliva. The disease also can persist for a long time in the environment and may be contracted from contaminated soil. The movement of live animals is one of the greatest risk factors in spreading the disease to new areas.

Wildlife managers don’t know how the disease got to the Lanesboro area, Cornicelli said. But he said the population should rebound quickly once the threat is over.

“The worst thing that can happen is if we allow this disease to become established,” he said. “Then we’re going to have to live with it in perpetuity.”

“We were proactively looking for the disease, a proven strategy that allows us to manage CWD by finding it early, reacting quickly and aggressively to control it and hopefully eliminating its spread.” Lou Cornicelli, DNR’s wildlife research manager

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