Deer season is now open!  Hunting white-tail deer is important in Mississippi.  Deer hunting is important from a recreational, ecological, and economical perspective. Without proper control Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) could severely impact white-tailed deer hunting in Mississippi.

This article will discuss CWD, give a CWD update, and discuss the plan that has been designed to control it in Mississippi.  The sources used for this article include the Mississippi State University Extension Service publication “What You Need to Know about Chronic Wasting Disease in Mississippi Deer” and information from the MDWFP website located at https://www.mdwfp.com/wildlife-hunting/chronic-wasting-disease/.

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)

CWD affects white-tailed deer, elk, mule deer, moose, and caribou.  CWD was first found in a Colorado mule deer in an enclosure in 1967.   CWD is contagious and fatal. The disease causes damage to the deer’s brain and results in certain death.  

Signs and symptoms of CWD include weight loss, unusual behavior, loss of bodily functions, and death.  The behaviors exhibited by deer with CWD can include clumsiness, lack of energy, unusual water consumption, walking in back and forth, blank stares, teeth grinding, drooling, and no fear of humans. 

CWD is classified as a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy disease (TSE).  Other examples of TSE diseases include scrapie in sheep; “mad cow disease” in cattle; and Creutzfedt-Jakob disease in humans.  It has not been proven that CWD causes harm in humans.  Information from public health officials recommends avoiding contact and exposure to CWD.

The CWD pathogen is a prion, which is a type of misfolded protein.  The CWD prion can be transferred through blood, saliva, urine, and feces. The full development of the disease in deer can take 16 months from the time the deer is infected until symptoms are evident.  It is not known at what point in the development of the disease that the deer becomes contagious.  

The CWD prion can be passed directly from one animal to another.  Research has shown that saliva of infected deer has the highest concentration of prions. The CWD prion is very persistent in the environment.  It is probable that the prions could be spread from the surface of a deer feeder with saliva residue left by an infected deer.  

CWD Update

Since the first CWD case was reported on February 9, 2018 in Issaquena County, MDWFP has sampled over 8,000 deer for CWD.  There have been 19 deer that have tested positive for CWD.  The Mississippi Counties with positive samples include Benton (7), Issaquena (2), Marshall (7), Panola (1), Pontotoc (1), and Tallahatchie. (1)

There are currently two CWD Management Zones that have been formed in Mississippi to help control its spread. The North CWD Management Zone includes the following counties: Alcorn, Benton, Carroll, Desoto, Grenada, Lafayette, Lee, Leflore, Marshall, Panola, Pontotoc, Prentiss, Quitman, Sunflower, Tallahatchie, Tate, Tippah, Union, and Yalobusha counties.  The Issaquena CWD Management Zone includes: Warren County and portions of Issaquena and Sharkey counties.

The following activities have been deemed unlawful by the MDWFP within the boundaries of the CWD Management Zones.

  • Supplemental feeding of deer.
  • Establishing new mineral sites or adding supplements to existing sites.
  • Removing deer carcasses from the management zone. 
  • The products that can be transported out of management zones include deboned meat, hides with no heads attached, finished taxidermy, antlers with no tissue attached, and cleaned skulls or skull plates.
  • Trapping wild hogs without a permit from the MDWFP.

There is currently no reliable CWD test that can be conducted on a living deer.

To monitor the presence of CWD the MDWFP is asking deer hunters to voluntarily submit the deer heads from harvested animals to be tested.  

The MDWFP has designated sampling stations throughout the state.  Each station includes a freezer and instructions to correctly submit the deer heads.  Hunters will complete a form that includes personal information and the exact GPS location where the deer was harvested.  The testing procedure will likely be completed within two to three weeks.  Hunters can check on the status of their sample on the following web page http://www.mdwfp.com/wildlife-hunting/chronic-wasting-disease/.

Hunters are advised to remove the deer head, along with antlers, with at least six inches of the neck intact.  Hunters are also asked to keep the deer heads cool before submission, since decomposition will interfere with the ability to provide accurate results. 

To prevent possible spread of CWD prions designated tools should be used for sampling procedures.  In order to clean equipment used to cut bones or spinal cords it should be soaked in a 50:50 solution of bleach and water for at least one hour.  The equipment should then be rinsed thoroughly in hot water. 

A complete listing of sampling stations in Mississippi can be found at the following web page https://www.mdwfp.com/wildlife-hunting/chronic-wasting-disease/sample-collection/.  Sampling stations that are available for hunters in and around Pontotoc County are listed below.  There will be signs identifying the exact location of the sampling stations.

Elvis Presley Lake

72 CR 995

Tupelo, MS 38804

City of Ecru Maintenance Building

383 Main Street

Ecru, MS 38841

Chickasaw WMA

770 Hwy 32

Houston, MS 38841

Lafayette County Fire Station No. 1

599 Hwy 310

Como, MS 38619

Union County Fair Grounds

112 Fairgrounds Circle

New Albany, MS 38652

 

CWD Best Management Practices

The MDWFP also offers best management practices for cleaning, processing, and disposal of harvested deer which are listed below.

  • Always wear latex gloves when handling deer carcasses.
  • Avoid processing deer that appear to be diseased.  Dispose the animal on the site it was harvested.
  • Do not saw through bone, spinal cord, brain, lymph nodes or the spleen when field dressing or processing deer.
  • Process deer one at a time and store and label each deer individually.
  • Debone the meat and remove all lymph nodes, fat and connective tissue.
  • Use a cooler or other container that will not leak when transporting meat.
  • Do not eat or handle eyeballs, brain tissue, spinal cord, spleen, and lymph nodes.
  • Bodily fluids that go into an area that can’t be properly sanitized such as a floor drain should be limited.
  • Deer parts should not be used for animal feed or compost.
  • Internal organs and other parts that can’t be eaten should be disposed at the place of harvest, double bagged and taken to an approved lined landfill, or buried to a depth of at least eight feet.

The MDWFP has identified general precautions which are listed below.

  • Avoid contact with and do not consume animals that are showing symptoms of CWD.
  • Never use natural deer scents or lures such as natural deer urine.
  • Avoid practices that concentrate deer in an area including bait sites, feeders, and salt or mineral licks.

To accomplish the goals of the CWD strategic plan it is very important for deer hunters in Mississippi to cooperate with the MDWFP.  This cooperation can involve submitting deer to be sampled, by obeying the rules within the CWD management zones, and reporting any sickened deer that are sighted.  Sickened deer can be reported by calling the MDWFP at 1-800-237-6278 or 1-800-BE-SMART.  It is also important for hunters to learn as much as possible and share science-based information about CWD and its management with others. 

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