By WCCO-TV Staff

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A suspected case of chronic wasting disease in a wild deer in northwestern Minnesota has prompted state officials to implement voluntary sampling of all deer harvested in the area during this year’s firearms hunting season, which starts this weekend.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced Wednesday that preliminary results of a deer harvested near Climax, which is about 50 miles north of Moorhead, strongly indicate a CWD infection. Confirmation is expected next week.

According to officials, no CWD cases have yet been reported in wild or captive deer in the area. Although there was no sample requirement at the time, the hunter who killed the deer sent a sample to a private lab. When the results came back positive, he contacted the DNR.

“Thanks to this hunter’s early discovery, we have the chance to act quickly and be proactive,” said Seth Goreham, acting wildlife research manager for the DNR, in a statement.

CWD is a prion disease, and it is always fatal to animals it infects. There are no treatments or vaccines. While it’s currently known to affect deer and moose, studies suggest it could pose a risk to non-human primates, such as monkeys, if they eat meat from infected animals. According to the World Health Organization, it’s important to keep prion diseases from entering the food chain.

While symptoms of CWD may take years to show in infected animals, they include stumbling, listlessness, and dramatic weight loss, hence the name. The symptoms are caused by abnormal folding of proteins in the brain, which lead to brain damage and rapid degeneration until death.

As a result of the suspected case, the DNR is urging hunters near the North Dakota border, in permit areas 261 and 262, to leave samples at self-service stations in Neilsville and Climax. While these stations have yet to be established, details will soon be posted on the DNR website. Testing will be free for all deer harvested in these areas, as well as others designated as CWD control zones. The firearm season opener is Saturday.

So far, 118 CWD cases have been documented in Minnesota’s wild deer herd, most of them in the southeastern part of the state. The disease is also being managed near Bemidji, the Brainerd Lakes area, and the area south of the Twin Cities metro.

While CWD is relatively rare in Minnesota, it is found in about half of the U.S. and several other countries across the globe.