By W.H. Tomlinson, Certified Wildlife Biologist
Chronic Wasting Disease Discovered in Mississippi
By now, many of you are aware of the discovery of a buck deer which tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Issaquena County, MS. This occurrence is the first confirmed incidence of CWD in Mississippi. The Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks (MDWFP) has stepped forward as the lead Agency responsible for oversight and implementation of a CWD Response Plan going forward. As part of the response process, three separate Management Zones have been established, including: a five mile radius Containment Zone; a ten mile radius High Risk Buffer; and a 25 mile radius Buffer.
Six Mississippi counties fall within the 25 mile radius buffer designation, including Issaquena, Warren, Yazoo, Sharkey, Hinds, and Claiborne. Tara Managed Properties, though confined to Warren County, falls within all three of these designated CWD Management Zones. Pursuant to the order of the MDWFP Executive Director, all feeding, mineral licks/mineral supplementation activities within these counties have, been banned.
Since confirmation of the disease in the Issaquena County deer, MDWFP has been busy collecting and testing deer from within the referenced Management Zones. As of the writing of this blog post, no additional deer have tested positive for the disease. Additional information relative to the Mississippi CWD management strategy, past and present, can be found on the MDWFP website.
What is CWD and What Does it Do?
CWD was first documented among captive mule deer in Colorado in 1967. CWD is an infectious particle of protein or prion that can affect deer, elk, or moose and has now been confirmed in 25 states, three Canadian provinces, and three foreign countries. According to the CWD Alliance the most recent report of CWD was in Finland March 8, 2018, where CWD was confirmed in a moose or European elk (Alces alces).
Technically, CWD is classified as a Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy or TSE; which includes such variants as mad cow disease, scrapie in sheep and the human variant, Creutzfeldt-Jakob. TSE diseases adversely affect the brain and, as the name suggests, the brain develops spongy holes similar to those encountered in, well, a sponge. The origin of CWD is not known and it may never be possible to definitively determine how or when CWD arose. Significantly, however, no cases of human prion disease have been associated with CWD.
Animals infected with CWD can take months or years to develop symptoms. Once symptomatic, the disease is always fatal. In the final stages, the animal generally exhibits significant weight loss, droopy ears, lowered head, excessive salivation and a classic A-Frame stance with the front legs. The animal exhibits breathing difficulty and, as it struggles to breathe, may inhale debris into the lungs. Quite often, pneumonia is ultimately the cause of death. Animals in an advanced stage of CWD infection may show no fear of humans.
Unfortunately, little is known about CWD transmission in free range deer herds. What we do know is that the causative agents of CWD can exist in the environment for years and that it may take months or years for an infected animal to become symptomatic. The prions are difficult to kill and seem resistant to time, disinfectants, etc. Incineration appears to be the only thing that destroys the prion.
At Tara, we are aware of the impact that CWD has had in other states and are committed to exercising the best science available in addressing that issue. Nevertheless, questions remain: Was the deer that tested positive for CWD in Issaquena County the only one with the disease? Did seasonal high water events cause this buck to relocate from adjacent properties? In its diminished state why didn’t coyotes, which are prevalent in the area, fail to take the animal down? What are the short term and long term management strategies that will accrue from this discovery? When will we know the harvest, testing, and transportation protocol for the 2018-19 hunting season?These and other pertinent questions will be asked in the coming weeks/months, as MDWFP continues to exercise its CWD management response and as testing of harvested and road kill/found dead animals continue.
Meanwhile, as a practical matter, the Mississippi River is approximately seven feet above flood stage and will crest today at 49.9 feet on the Vicksburg Gauge. Steele Bayou Land Side flooding elevation is at 94.4 feet. Both readings are indicators of a significant flood event. As a result of widespread flooding, deer/deer populations which were associated with the Issaquena CWD deer have dispersed from much of the Five Mile Containment Zone and into other areas which afford dry ground and safe haven. In short, the genie is out of the bottle and it is anyone’s guess where or when the next CWD case will be reported. We will keep you posted.
Guidelines For Handling Deer
In the meantime, here are a few practical guidelines:
- Do not shoot, handle or consume any animal that is acting abnormally or appears to be sick. Contact your state game and fish department if you see or harvest an animal that appears sick.
- Wear latex or rubber gloves when field dressing your deer or elk.
- Bone out the meat from your animal. 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 of harvested animals. (Normal field dressing coupled with boning out a carcass will remove most, if not all, of these body parts. Cutting away all fatty tissue will remove remaining lymph nodes.)
- Avoid consuming the meat from any animal that tests positive for the disease.
- If you have your deer or elk commercially processed, request that your animal is processed individually, without meat from other animals being added to meat from your animal.
W.H. Tomlinson is the owner of Sustainable Resource Managers, LLC in Vicksburg.