By Alyssa Schnugg
*Update: Officials say two more deer with Chronic Wasting Disease have been found in the state. One in Issaquena County—its second—and one in Marshall County.
A case of a debilitating deer disease has been confirmed in Pontotoc County and state wildlife officials are asking hunters to help keep track of the disease to keep it from spreading.
The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks announced last month that additional tests confirm a white-tailed deer found Oct. 8 in Pontotoc County had Chronic Wasting Disease.
The contagious and always fatal neurological disease is caused by a contagious, fatal prion, or abnormal protein, that affects cervids such as white-tailed deer, elk and mule deer. For some animals, it may be a year or more before symptoms develop, which can include drastic weight loss, stumbling, listlessness and other neurological symptoms.
“It ultimately makes Swiss cheese out of a deer’s brain,” said Rush Walsh, executive bureau director with MDWFP.
Infected animals shed prions through saliva, feces, blood, and urine. Other animals can become infected through direct contact with an infected animal and through indirect contact from an infected environment. Once the disease occurs in an area, the evidence demonstrates eradication is unlikely.
“There’s no cure, no vaccine,” Walsh said.
An earlier case was found in January in Issaquena County.
The department is implementing restrictions in Pontotoc and Union counties, and in Lee County west of U.S. 45, to control the spread of the disease. Supplemental feeding, supplemental minerals, removing certain deer carcass parts, and trapping wild hogs without a permit are banned.
The department is encouraging area hunters to submit killed deer for testing.
How It Spreads
Walsh said the disease is not caused by overpopulation, but rather a heavy population of deer could help spread the disease faster.
“It’s spread through social behaviors – licking, interacting, social behaviors among deer like when a doe and buck are interacting,” he said. “If you have an overpopulation it can spread more rapidly but that’s not the cause of it.”
Corn feeders could also help spread the disease.
“It’s not the corn, it’s the unnatural concentrations of deer at the corn feeder,” he said. “Saliva has the highest number of prions.”
There are currently no documented cases of humans contracting CWD, either by interacting with deer or eating deer; however, Walsh said that doesn’t mean humans can’t get the disease.
“Science will not say humans cannot get it, it just shows us it has not happened yet,” Walsh said.
Another concern about the disease is the effect it can have on the local deer population. In some states, the disease has wiped out large herds of deer.
“It’s a conservation issue,” he said. “From a hunter’s standpoint, that’s a concern. However, we’re tasked with managing the resources for the public. Our primary fundraising is through people who hunt and fish.
The money from the licenses, fishing tackle and ammunition goes to pay for conservation around the state. If there’s a decline in hunting, then conservation suffers because of that.”
Oxford Father Will Continue to Hunt
Oxford resident and avid hunter Brad Mayo said he’s concerned about the reports of CWD and their proximity to Lafayette County.
“I go hunting with my boys as a family activity and we harvest the deer and we eat the deer,” he said. “It is concerning. You don’t really know what effects it can have on a human for sure.”
Mayo said he will still hunt with his two sons, William and Elliot, this season.
“The herd has to be thinned for management purposes,” Mayo said. “And my sons love being outdoors. It’s nice to have that quiet time together with them. But I haven’t decided if we’re going to eat the deer yet.”
Mayo said he will send samples to the MDWFP of any deer he and his sons are able to get.
“It’s never happened here that I know of,” Mayo said about CWD being found in Lafayette County. “We’ve managed to be insulated from it for a long time. It’s been nice not having to worry about it.”
For more information about Chronic Wasting Disease, visit www.mdwfp.com/cwd.