More than 350 deer have been shot in recent weeks as part of state testing for chronic wasting disease, and so far, officials have not found a single case of the fatal brain disease.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources began the tests after a deer infected with the disease was found near Pine Island last fall. Landowners and sharpshooters have been shooting the deer so officials can test the animals for chronic wasting disease.
"We've had great cooperation from landowners," Lou Cornicelli, who leads the DNR's chronic wasting disease response team, said Thursday. "It's really been tremendous."
So far, the DNR has issued 320 deer-hunting special permits to landowners. The department plans to test 900 deer in a 10-square-mile area that stretches from Rochester to Wanamingo.
Sharpshooters were dispatched to sites on Tuesday. In the past two days, they've shot 17 deer, and plan to continue their efforts for several weeks.
An outbreak of the disease wouldn't pose a risk to humans, but the disease is progressively fatal for deer, elk and moose. There is no known vaccine or treatment.
Cornicelli said the tests so far seem to indicate that the disease hadn't spread, but he said it's too early to tell. With 900 samples, he said, the agency can be 99 percent sure that the disease hasn't infected other deer.
The testing has been time consuming, but Cornicelli said the state is lucky to have found the infected female deer.
"Nobody's real happy about this, and there's about a thousand other things we'd all like to be doing, but I'm glad we found her," he said.
The agency is waiting for results on another batch of 45 samples. Cornicelli said he expects all 900 tests will be completed within the next three to five weeks.
(MPR reporter Elizabeth Baier contributed to this report.)