Wildlife disease management is a primary conservation challenge of today. Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a contagious, always fatal neurological disease affecting deer, elk, and moose. CWD belongs to a group of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). It causes a characteristic spongy degeneration of the brains of infected animals, resulting in emaciation, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions, and death. Currently, there is no known cure or vaccine.
CWD has long-term implications including:
• Negative impact on deer population dynamics and management
• Persistent, long-term battle associated with the disease
• Impact on Mississippi’s hunting heritage
Though many observers try to compare CWD with “mad cow disease,” the diseases are distinctly different. Presently, there is no evidence that CWD poses a risk for humans; however, public health officials recommend that human exposure to the CWD infectious agent be avoided as they continue to evaluate any potential health risk.
Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks (MDWFP) has a dedicated staff that is passionate about protecting and conserving Mississippi’s natural resources. Since 2002, more than 20,000 samples have been collected across 82 counties to monitor for CWD. Preventative measures enacted include bans on the importation of live CWD-susceptible cervids and certain portions of cervid carcasses into Mississippi from all states. Further, a CWD Response Plan was adopted by the Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks in 2017. Visit www. mdwfp.com/wildlife-hunting/chronic-wasting-disease/ to learn more.
On Feb. 9, 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Veterinary Services Laboratory confirmed the first positive CWD sample collected in Mississippi. A hunter in Issaquena County witnessed the infected 4-year old buck expire on Jan. 21, 2018. The hunter’s vigilance was instrumental in detecting Mississippi’s first known case of this insidious disease. Upon notification, MDWFP immediately began enacting steps outlined in the CWD Response Plan. The primary goal of the initial phase was to define the geographic extent and prevalence of the disease through targeted sampling. The results of these initial sampling procedures were critical to in-forming and adapting the management strategy for the disease in the region.
As of June 2019, Mississippi has 19 con-firmed CWD-positive white-tailed deer in Benton (7), Issaquena (2), Marshall (7), Panola (1), Pontotoc (1), and Tallahatchie (1) counties. Additionally, Tennessee has confirmed 185 CWD-positive white-tailed deer in counties that border Mississippi. Efforts to monitor for and mitigate the spread of the disease will certainly continue. MDWFP is dedicated to leading the charge to manage CWD using the best science available, and with the continued support of hunters, land-owners, and conservation partners.
CWD sampling is dependent on hunter participation. To submit your deer for CWD testing, please bring the head of your deer to a CWD drop-off freezer. Hunters should preserve the head with at least 6 inches of neck attached. Antlers should be removed before depositing head. For the current CWD drop-off freezer locations, please visit www.mdwfp.com/wildlife-hunting/chronic-wasting-disease/.