Officials Meet On Chronic Wasting Disease

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Although Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has not been found in Mississippi's deer herd, state officials with the departments of Agriculture and Commerce and Wildlife have met to discuss CWD and its prevention, control, and testing, according to the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.

"CWD is one of a group of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs)," Dr. Jim Watson said. Watson is the State Veterinarian with the Mississippi Board of Animal Health.

He said that a TSE disease causes degeneration of the brain and is ultimately fatal to infected animals. Diseased animals will show changes in their natural behavior, exhibit excessive weight loss, salivation, stumbling, and tremors.

Current research indicates that the spread of CWD from infected deer and elk to cattle is unlikely.

"CWD has been found in Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and in the Canadian Provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta," said Jim Lipe with the Mississippi Department of Agriculture.

Lipe said the disease occurs in captive and wild deer and elk populations.

White-tailed Deer Program Coordinator Larry Castle with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks said that CWD is a wildlife disease issue of unparalleled precedence in the United States and Canada.

"CWD has not been diagnosed in Mississippi," Castle said. "The primary potential for disease introduction seems to be from the importation into Mississippi of an infected animal.

Since a test to detect CWD in live animals does not exist, officials say the most effective control measures are targeted at banning importation of potential hosts of this neurological disease.

Arkansas, Texas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Florida have enacted importation bans to prevent the further spread of CWD. Most of the bans affect animals in the deer and elk family.

"Mississippi is ahead of most other states in its efforts to control importation," Castle explained.

"White-tailed deer and all exotic deer and elk importation is currently illegal without permit approval from the Mississippi Board of Animal Health or the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks."

Permits are not being issued at this time for any deer and elk species that have potential for CWD infection. "Our primary concern now is the potential for illegal entry of these animals into Mississippi," Castle said.

According to Watson, state and federal agencies have been cooperating for more than a year in the testing and surveillance of CWD in Mississippi.

Control of CWD in disease positive areas have been directed at hunter harvest and game ranchers. Control measures are basically limited to depopulation of infected herds and vigorous testing and harvesting of wild animals in the surrounding infected area.

Castle said hunters in Mississippi should not be alarmed by the presence of CWD in the Midwest. "Hunters should be concerned about CWD, and they should become more informed about this disease and its potential for affecting Mississippi's deer herd," he said.

As a result of the CWD issue, the Miss. Board of Animal Health is enacting an emergency ruling that imposes a moratorium on the importation and intra-state movement of all deer and elk.

This emergency rule will be in effect for 120 days after which agriculture and wildlife officials will be prepared to enact a joint state CWD monitoring and response plan.