Chronic Wasting Disease Spreads to Mississippi

Chronic wasting disease has been confirmed for the first time in Mississippi, and officials are moving quickly to minimize the spread.

Photo credit Larry Smith

The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks (MDWFP) announced the state’s first confirmed case of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in a whitetail deer in Issaquena County last month. A deer observed in a food plot appeared to be ill and passed away shortly afterward. A witness called officials on suspicion of the disease.

The MDWFP collected the whitetail deer suspected of CWD and sent it to a lab for testing. Officials sprung into action once the positive test results came back in early February.

A deer shows signs of chronic wasting disease; photo by USGS

Chronic Wasting Disease: What We Know

The first official case of CWD was documented in 1967 among captive mule deer in Colorado. According to the CWD Alliance, the disease has since spread across 24 states in the U.S.

CWD causes central nervous system deterioration in hoofed animals such as deer, elk, and moose. Evidence does not currently point towards a CWD risk to humans, but public health officials still recommend avoiding human exposure as they continue to evaluate any potential health risks.

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Mississippi’s Preemptive Strategy

MDWFP officials began monitoring for CWD in 2002. Over 13,000 deer have been tested for the disease since then, and none tested positive until recently. The strategy moving forward mainly involves new regulations and sampling procedures.

MDWFP Chief of Wildlife Russ Walsh spoke of the situation on a live Mississippi Outdoors Radio show. “It is not a time to panic; this is a time for us to be diligent,” he said. “Our agency has been preparing for this, and we have an approved CWD response plan. It has been discussed within our staff and agency for a long time now.”

CWD Response: Supplemental Feeding, Mineral Ban

The MDWFP looked at CWD for a number years while watching the disease spread toward Mississippi. Their preemptive response framework includes preventative measures and regulation enforcement. This CWD response plan and management zones rolled out as of February 12, 2018.

The counties of Claiborne, Hinds, Issaquena, Sharkey, Warren, and Yazoo are under a feeding ban suspension. Individuals in these counties must remove feed and take supplemental feeders off property.

The MDWFP decided on February 21 to ban establishing new mineral sites, mineral blocks, salt blocks, or licks. Landowners and hunters do not have to remove established sites, but it will be unlawful to establish new locations or add to current ones.

According to the MDWFP, “The intent of the supplemental feeding ban is to minimize the concentration of white-tailed deer in small, centralized locations to reduce the potential for spreading CWD.”

This ban is similar to what Montana is asking Wyoming officials to implement in the state’s elk feeding grounds. The conversation between state officials began when an elk with CWD was found in southern Montana near the Wyoming border.

CWD Response: Collection, Sampling

Three distinct zones from the epicenter of the disease include a containment zone (5-mile radius), a high-risk zone (10-mile radius), and buffer zone (25-mile radius). Penned animals, roadkill, and deer harvested during hunting seasons in these zones are all at risk for CWD.

The MDWFP asks Mississippi residents to watch for deer, living or dead, with CWD symptoms. Call the MDWFP at (601) 432-2199 or (800) BE-SMART if you suspect a deer of this disease.

The CWD Alliance notes the following guidelines for spotting an infected animal:

  • Weight loss
  • Appetite loss
  • Insatiable thirst
  • Avoidance of herds
  • Walking in patterns
  • Head hanging low
  • Excessive salivation
  • Teeth grinding

Full details for the MDWFP’s CWD response plan are available here.

Final Thought

There is no cure for CWD. Mississippi and the country at large will likely see the disease continue to expand even as biologists and agencies work hard to contain it.

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