A white-tailed deer from Issaquena County that tested positive for Chronic Wasting Disease is “not likely” from a group that escaped an illegal Lamar County operation after the Jan. 21, 2017, tornado, a state wildlife official said Tuesday.
Amy Blaylock, Wildlife Bureau Director for the state Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, said the Lamar County deer would not have been able to travel the 200 miles in a year. The 4½-year-old infected male deer – the first case of Chronic Wasting Disease in Mississippi – was found on Jan. 25 after dying of natural causes.
CWD is a disease in the brain and nervous system found in deer, elk, moose and other members of the deer family. It is similar to “mad cow” disease in cattle and scrapie in sheep, and is 100 percent fatal to the animal.
State Deer Program Leader William McKinley warned the Lamar County Board of Supervisors in August about a high-fence deer operation that was operated illegally between Purvis and Hattiesburg owned by Coleman Slade, who pleaded guilty to illegally importing whitetail deer from Texas. McKinley received permission to place freezers at five volunteer fire stations so that deer samples could be collected and tested for CWD.
Blaylock said Tuesday that the 63 samples that have been collected in Lamar County during the current hunting season, which ends Thursday, have not tested positive for Chronic Wasting Disease.
“There is a link on the facility to some chronic wasting disease-positive disease facilities in Texas,” McKinley said in August. “That does not mean the deer he brought were infected, but we want to see. We want to make sure. During the course of the federal process when he had pleaded and was awaiting restitution, the January tornado destroyed the entire north side of that high fence. Those deer escaped into the free range of Lamar County. U.S. Judge (Keith) Starrett ruled on the restitution, with the fines $10,000 each for each person; they received three years’ probation.”
After the deer infected with CWD was found in Issaquena County, health and wildlife jumped into action from Louisiana to Alabama. The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks immediately implemented the CWD Response Plan to ban supplemental feeding in Claiborne, Hinds, Issaquena, Sharkey, Warren and Yazoo counties.
The Mississippi State Department of Health said the disease has not been known to cause infection in humans, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has never reported a case of CWD in people. However, MSDH State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers says certain precautions are still important to prevent possible infection.
“While there has never been a reported case of CWD in people, if it could spread to humans it would likely come from eating an infected animal, like an infected deer,” he said.
As a precaution, the CDC now recommends that hunters harvesting deer from areas with reported CWD should strongly consider having those animals tested before eating the meat.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is also monitoring the situation and encouraged landowners in nearby East Carroll, Madison and Tensas parishes to curtail supplemental feeding of deer as a means to limit concentration and spread of the disease.
After CWD was discovered in Mississippi, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources reminded hunters that the importation to Alabama of whole carcasses and certain body parts of any deer from a Chronic Wasting Disease-positive state was prohibited. Because the most likely way of CWD being introduced to Alabama is through transportation, it has been illegal for decades for live deer to be imported into Alabama.
Alabama also banned the importation of whole carcasses and certain body parts of deer from any CWD-positive state in 2016.
McKinley said CWD “is a hideous disease. There is no cure for it. It is 100 percent fatal. It’s a very slow-moving disease. It’s been described as a slow disaster. Arkansas found in February 2016 and they have already spent $1.6 million in battling it just in that local area.”
CWD was first documented among captive mule deer in Colorado in 1967, and has been confirmed in 25 states, three Canadian provinces, and two foreign countries. It has been found in the free-ranging herds in 22 states and among captive cervids in 16 states.
According to the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance, CWD affects only cervids (hoofed animals in the cervidae family such as deer, elk, and moose). CWD affects the body’s nervous system. Once in the host’s body, prions transform normal cellular protein into an abnormal shape that accumulates until the cell ceases to function. 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.
Decomposing body parts of dead, infected deer can also contaminate the soil. Plants growing in that soil can take up the prions. Deer can become infected by feeding in areas with prion-contaminated soil and plants. The prions remain in the environment for years. There is no practical method of decontaminating an infected area.
In May 2016, the Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks passed a law to protect Mississippi from Chronic Wasting Disease. It is now unlawful to import, transport or possess any portion of a cervid carcass originating from any state, territory or foreign country where the occurrence of CWD has been confirmed by the state wildlife agency, state agriculture agency, state veterinarian, United States Department of Agriculture Animal Plant Health Inspection Service or the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
To be as safe as possible and to prevent any potential human exposure to CWD, the following precautions are recommended by the Mississippi State Department of Health:
Hunters should consider not eating venison from deer harvested within the CWD Management Zone as defined by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.
Do not shoot, handle or eat meat from a deer that appears sick.
Wear latex or rubber gloves when field dressing your deer.
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 commercially processed, request that your animal is processed individually, without meat from other animals being added to meat from your animal.