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Offi­cials are keeping their eyes on local deer as disease has spread widely throughout the country.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has been testing deer in Hillsdale County for chronic wasting disease — a fatal disease which can cause deer to have a “zombie-like” appearance, com­plete with severe mal­nu­trition, drooling, and neu­ro­logical problems — after an infected deer was found in Jackson County in July 2018.

Although no infected deer were found in Hillsdale County or neigh­boring Calhoun County, two infected deer have been found in Jackson County. Neither Branch County or Lenawee County, which both have adjacent border to Hillsdale County, are cur­rently being tested.

The DNR is testing deer in Michigan as part of a man­agement solution for chronic wasting disease, which requires any county within 10 miles of an infected deer to be tested.

CWD is in the same family as “mad-cow” disease, according to Matt Dunfee, director of special pro­grams for the Wildlife Man­agement Institute and CWD Alliance Coor­di­nator. It is caused by a mis­folded protein, which then dupli­cates, causing the animal to degen­erate.

Although humans have similar pro­teins, it cannot spread to them, Dunfee said.

“What is dif­ferent about this disease is it isn’t caused by bac­teria or viruses,” Dunfee said.

Instead, CWD is spread between deer from contact with shed pro­teins, such as in saliva or feces. But if enough infected deer are in one area, it can spread through the envi­ronment as well. Because CWD is not alive — like a virus would be — it can be active in the open envi­ronment.

“There’s not a quick, easy answer for what CWD is,” Dunfee said.

An infected deer can not show signs of the disease for up to two years, according to Dennis Tyson, a biol­ogist with the Department of Natural Resources. Infected deer will show signs of mal­nu­trition, excess saliva, and neu­ro­logical problems. Anyone who sees a pos­sibly infected deer is encourage to report it to their local DNR.

Montcalm County in Michigan is cur­rently at the heart of the CWD out­break, with 45 infected deer found. The next-highest is Kent County, with only nine infected deer found.

“It’s important to control it in the wild, because we don’t want it to spread expo­nen­tially,” said Tyson.

To see a com­plete list of tested areas, visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources website.