MDWFP stops actively testing for CWD

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Nearly six months after the first case of Chronic Wasting Disease was discovered in Mississippi, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks has officially stopped actively testing for the disease.

MDWFP Executive Wildlife Bureau Director Russ Walsh said the department has ceased its active target shooting operations. This means that the department will no longer actively harvest specimens to test for CWD. However, Walsh said testing will continue on animals brought in as road kill and animals reported as sick.

According to an MDWFP release, between October 1, 2017 and the end of June, 2018, more than 1,500 white-tailed deer were brought in for testing. The only deer that tested positive for the disease was collected on January 25 in Issaquena County, the release states. Walsh said killing that number of deer for testing will have no lasting effects on the local environment.

According to the MDWFP 2017-2018 CWD sampling plan published in August, 2017, Pearl River County was only one of two counties listed as having an “extreme” risk of CWD, based on various considerations such as the population index, the number of facilities with breeding pens, etc. The sample collection goal for the year was 55, according to the plan.

Testing focus shifted from Pearl River County in January when the infected deer in Issaquena County was found and Claiborne, Hinds, Issaquena, Sharkey, Warren and Yazoo County were all put on high alert.

Walsh said via email correspondence that between October 1, 2017 and July 16, only four samples were taken from Pearl River County. Between the years 2002 to 2018, 110 were collected, Walsh said.

Walsh said it is hard to predict how a wide scale outbreak of CWD would affect Mississippi’s environment and economy. In other states with more cases of the disease, Walsh said the number of hunters has decreased and the number of licenses being sold has dropped.

Walsh said CWD is a prion disease similar to mad cow disease and others that cause severe neurodegenerative disorders.

“CWD affects the body’s nervous system. Infected animals begin to lose weight, lose their appetite and develop an insatiable thirst. They tend to stay away from herds, walk in patterns, carry their head low, salivate and grind their teeth,” the MDWFP website states.

Walsh said currently only cervids such as deer, moose and elk are known to carry and show clinical symptoms of the disease. He said while some wild boar can carry the prion, it is uncertain whether one has shown symptoms. He said currently, it is unknown whether the disease could be transferred to other species – such as if a coyote eats an infected animal. However, he said it is sometimes possible for diseases such as CWD to undergo mutations, so the department is always on the lookout.

Walsh said the department strongly recommends hunters not consume animals that appear to be ill. At the very least, he said animals should be tested for diseases before consumption if there is suspicion that the meat is infected.

The department will soon be putting forth hunting season recommendations for supplemental feeding and carcass transportation over the next month.