It was probably inevitable. Chronic Wasting Disease, a neurological disease in whitetail deer that’s 100 percent fatal, has arrived in Mississippi.
A four and a half-year-old buck in Issaquena County was confirmed late last month to have CWD, and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks banned feeding deer in counties as far south as Claiborne. Feeding deer tends to congregate them, making it easier for disease to spread.
The disease can be spread from one deer to another or through the environment of an infected area. Once established, it can linger in the soil, leaves and roots for a long time. So the first and most obvious danger of CWD is to the deer herd itself.
Deer infected with CWD lose weight, lose appetite and develop an insatiable thirst. They tend to stay away from herds, walk in patterns, carry their head low, salivate and grind their teeth.
Wildlife officials have been tracking the spread of the disease, and restricted the import of deer carcasses from other states. They also cracked down on high-fence owners who import infected deer from other states. None of that was enough.
A lurking concern is the possibility the disease could spread to humans. That has never happened, so far as scientists know, but they are researching the possibility. CWD is similar to other diseases found in humans (such as Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease) and animals (Mad Cow Disease) — similar, but still distinct.
The wildlife department offers safety tips for deer hunters:
Do not shoot, handle or consume any animal that is acting abnormally or appears to be sick. Wear latex or rubber gloves when field-dressing deer. Bone out the meat; don’t saw through bone, and avoid cutting through the brain or spinal cord (backbone). Minimize the handling of brain and spinal tissues.
Wash hands and instruments thoroughly after field dressing is completed. Avoid consuming brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils and lymph nodes (cutting away all fatty tissue will remove remaining lymph nodes). If you have your deer commercially processed, request that your animal be processed individually to avoid meat from other animals.