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Chronic Wasting Disease

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a progressively degenerative fatal disease that attacks the central nervous system of members of the deer family.  To date, it has been diagnosed in elk, mule deer, black-tailed deer, white-tailed deer, and moose.  CWD is one of a group of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs).  These diseases are characterized as transmissible because they can be transmitted from one infected animal to another.  They are further classified as spongiform due to the "spongy-like" areas which form in the brain of the infected animal, hence the encephalopathy portion of the name.

The scientific community generally accepts that the infectious agents of CWD are prions.  Prions are abnormal proteins that seem to have the ability to alter the structure of normal proteins found in the body of the animal they enter.  Logical natural methods of prion transmission include, but may not be limited to, secretions and excretions from infected animals.  A study conducted at Colorado State University found that CWD can be transmitted experimentally from saliva and blood.  Also, human activity contributes to environmental prion contamination.  Prions are hideously durable and impervious to most disinfectants and natural conditions, remaining in the environment for years.

Animals suffering from CWD typically behave abnormally by separating themselves from their usual social group.  They often stand alone, with a drooped posture, and may not respond to human presence.  As the disease progresses, they will appear very skinny on close examination and will salivate, drink, and urinate excessively.

As of July 2010, CWD has been diagnosed in 18 states and 2 Canadian Providences.  CWD is currently present in wild cervid populations in Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Illinois, Utah, New York, West Virginia, Kansas, Virginia, Missouri, North Dakota, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.  CWD is only present in captive cervid populations in Minnesota, Oklahoma, Michigan, and Montana.  Chronic Wasting Disease has not been found in Mississippi.

A total of 1,015 samples were taken from free-ranging white-tailed deer in Mississippi during the 2009 - 2010 sampling period.  Samples were obtained from hunter-harvested animals, spring herd health evaluations, target animal surveillance, and road-killed animals.  Samples were obtained from 71 counties.  The samples were submitted to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at the University of Georgia following the 2009 - 2010 hunting season and were tested for evidence of the CWD agent using immunohistochemistry. Evidence of CWD was not detected in any of the tested samples. Samples are be taken once again during the 2010 - 2011 hunting season. 

All public health officials maintain that venison is safe for human consumption.  However, hunters who wish to take additional steps to avoid potential unnecessary contact with prions or environmental contamination can do the following:

  • Avoid shooting, handling, or consuming any animal that appears sick.  Contact the MDWFP at 601-432-2199 if you see or harvest an animal that appears sick.
  • Wear latex gloves when field dressing or processing deer.
  • Avoid eating or contact with brain, spinal cord, spleen, lymph nodes, or eyes.
  • Cut through the spinal cord only when removing the head.  Use a knife designated solely for this purpose.
  • Bone out meat to avoid cutting into or through bones.  Remove all fat and connective tissue to avoid lymph nodes.
  • Dispose of all carcass material, including the head, in a landfill or pit dug for carcass disposal purposes.
  • Either process your animal individually or request that it be processed without adding meat from other animals.
  • Disinfect knives and other processing equipment in a 50% bleach solution for a minimum of one hour.
  • Discontinue baiting and feeding which unnaturally concentrate deer.

For more information visit the CWD Alliance website.

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