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Battle with CWD Continues

Hunting Regulations Icon Mississippi Hunting & Fishing

Wildlife disease management is a primary conservation challenge of today, and Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a significant part of that challenge.

CWD is a contagious, always fatal neurological disease affecting deer, elk, and moose. It belongs to a group of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). It causes a characteristic spongy degeneration of the brains of infected animals resulting in emaciation, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions and death. Currently, there is no known cure or vaccine.

CWD has long-term implications including:

  • Negative impact on deer population dynamics and management
  • Persistent, long-term battle associated with the disease
  • Impact on Mississippi’s hunting heritage

Though many observers try to compare CWD with “mad cow disease,” the diseases are noticeably different. Currently, there is no evidence that CWD poses a risk for humans; however, public health officials recommend that human exposure to the CWD infectious agent be avoided as they continue to evaluate any potential health risk.

The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks (MDWFP) has a dedicated staff that is passionate about protecting and conserving Mississippi’s natural resources. Since 2002, more than 20,000 samples have been collected across 82 counties to monitor for CWD. Preventative measures enacted include bans on the importation of live CWD-susceptible cervids and certain portions of cervid carcasses into Mississippi from all states. Further, a CWD Response Plan was adopted by the Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks in 2017 (visit www.mdwfp.com/wildlife-hunting/chronic-wasting-disease/ to view the CWD Response Plan).

On February 9, 2018, the USDA National Veterinary Services Laboratory confirmed the first positive CWD sample collected in Mississippi. A hunter in Issaquena County witnessed the infected 4-year-old buck expire on January 21. The hunter’s vigilance was instrumental in detecting Mississippi’s first known case of this insidious disease. Upon notification of detection, MDWFP immediately began enacting steps outlined in the CWD Response Plan. The primary goal of the initial phase was to define the geographic extent and prevalence of the disease through targeted sampling. The results of these initial sampling procedures were critical to informing and adapting the management strategy for the disease in the region.

As of March 2019, Mississippi has 19 confirmed CWD-positive white-tailed deer in Benton, Issaquena, Marshall, Panola, Pontotoc, and Tallahatchie counties. Efforts to monitor for and mitigate the spread of the disease will certainly continue. MDWFP is dedicated to leading the charge to manage CWD using the best science available, and with the continued support of hunters, landowners, and conservation partners.

CWD Management Zones are established around all the known CWD-positive locations. These zones could change as new positive cases are discovered. CWD sampling is dependent on hunter participation. To submit your deer for CWD testing, please bring the head of your deer to a CWD drop-off freezer. Hunters should preserve the head with at least 6 inches of neck attached. Antlers should be removed before depositing head (for the current CWD Management Zones and current CWD drop-off freezer locations, visit www.mdwfp.com/wildlife-hunting/chronic-wasting-disease/).

Regulations

The use of natural cervid urine is banned statewide. Cervid urine could contain prions and thus poses a risk of CWD transfer. Synthetic urines are legal for use.

Supplemental feeding is banned within the CWD Management Zones. This includes salt licks, mineral licks, and feeders. Direct contact with prions is the most effective means of transmitting CWD. Research indicates saliva may have the highest concentration of prions. Thus, to minimize the concentration of deer and the potential spread of CWD, supplemental feeding is banned.

Cervid carcasses cannot be transported into Mississippi from another state or country. Cervid carcasses cannot be transported outside of any designated CWD Management Zone. Only the products below can leave the CWD Management Zone or be imported from another state or country:

  • Cut/wrapped meat (commercially or privately)
  • Deboned meat
  • Hides with no head attached
  • Finished taxidermy
  • Antlers with no tissue attached
  • Cleaned skulls or skull plates (no brain tissue)

Research has shown that decomposed carcasses of infected animals can contribute to the transmission when prions bind to soil and plant material. Thus, movement of carcasses may introduce CWD into previously uninfected areas.

Any harvested deer can be taken directly to a taxidermist or meat processor within a CWD Management Zone.

Best Management Practices

Field Dressing

  • Wear rubber or latex gloves when handling carcasses.
  • When field dressing an animal, leave internal organs and inedible parts at the site of harvest.
  • Avoid sawing through bone, spinal cord, brain, lymph nodes, or spleen.
  • Store all portions of the animal to be transported in a container such as a cooler, bin, or bag that will not leak bodily fluids into the environment.

Processing Your Deer

  • Do not process a deer that appears to be diseased.
  • Process all deer individually, package separately, and label uniquely.
  • Debone meat from deer and remove all fat, connective tissue, and lymph nodes.
  • Avoid sawing through bone, spinal cord, brain, lymph nodes, or spleen.
  • Avoid eating or handling the eyes, brain, spinal cord, spleen, and lymph nodes.
  • Limit the amount of bodily fluids going to an area, such as a floor drain, that cannot be properly sanitized after use.

Disposal

  • Deer parts should not be rendered for use in feed for other animals, or used as compost.
  • Recommended disposal methods for unwanted portions of carcasses (bones, organs, etc.) are:
    • Leave at or near the harvest site
    • Double-bag and send to an approved, lined landfill
    • Deep burial (8 feet or deeper)

Equipment Cleaning

  • Clean processing equipment between each deer.
  • Thoroughly sanitize all equipment and workstations with a 50:50 solution of bleach and water.
  • Soak tools for one hour in the bleach solution, and then rinse thoroughly with hot water.

MDWFP asks hunters to report sick deer. Sampling sick deer is the most effective method of finding CWD. You may report a sick deer via the MDWFP App, the MDWFP website (www.MDWFP.com/diseased) or by calling 1-800-BE-SMART. MDWFP needs your help to find and battle this disease.