Mississippi sets season record for positive detections of CWD, more could come

Published 11:29 am Friday, January 12, 2024

JACKSON— Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks confirmed they have set a state record for most positive detections of Chronic Wasting Disease in a deer season with 76 positives. Mississippi’s deer season will end for much of the state on January 31 with parts of south Mississippi going until February 15. 

Chronic Wasting Disease is 100 percent always fatal to deer and other members of the cervid family. CWD is caused by an infectious prion which eats away at neurologic tissue. The Center for Disease Control states there have been no cases of CWD infecting people but recommends not eating meat from CWD positive animals. 

Hunter harvested samples are needed to detect the disease and implement mitigation strategies before it is too late. Samples submitted by hunters in Lincoln County can help the department find the disease before it is too late. 

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CWD samples can be dropped off at self serve coolers around the state or participating taxidermists. The closest drop-off cooler in Lincoln County is in Hazlehurst at the MSU Extension office. Lincoln County’s participating taxidermists are Brent Opdyke, Allen Morgan and George Wilson and their information can be found on the MDWFP CWD page. 

MDWFP reports 5,576 samples have been submitted for Chronic Wasting Disease testing since the opening day of September Velvet Season. Mississippi started off Fiscal Year 2024 with 207 positives since first detection and is now up to 283. 

The 76 positive detections to date set a record for most positives in a sampling year beating last year by three positive detections with several more weeks left in the deer season and more results pending at this time. MDWFP deer program coordinator William McKinley said the positives have shown a trend of CWD spreading.

“The disease is spreading and many of our positives this year are outside of the polygon of last year’s samples. They are on the perimeter,” McKinley said. “The disease continues to spread and likely exists in counties where it remains undetected.” 

Lafayette, Harrison and DeSoto Counties detected Chronic Wasting Disease for the first time in 2024. Harrison and Lafayette’s positives were confirmed by secondary method of testing and DeSoto County’s positive is currently off of for confirmation and is considered a suspect positive until then. 

McKinley said the DeSoto suspect positive was a doe showing clinical symptoms, which are exhibited after 12 to 18 months of first infection. Most CWD positive deer do not show visible signs of CWD and of the 76 positives this year only three showed symptoms according to hunters, McKinley said. 

Mississippi State University’s Veterinary Research and Diagnostic Laboratory in Pearl tests samples for Chronic Wasting Disease. Samples are tested three times if they come back positive. McKinley said he has been pleased with how swiftly the lab has gotten results back to the agency so they can let hunters know. 

“The lab is churning results at a good rate this year and has been consistent. We are happy with that. They do a great job,” McKinley said. “We want to thank them and we are appreciative of the lab and their hard work and getting results for us weekly.” 

Compared to last year

Last year, MDWFP detected 73 positives out of 7,915 samples. Statewide prevalence of the disease was 0.93 percent. This year, 76 positives were detected out of 4,586 results at a 1.7 percent prevalence rate. It is important to remember there are currently 1,020 samples pending testing at the lab right now and the number is changing daily until the end of all state deer seasons in February. 

While those statewide prevalence rates seem small the rates are much higher in areas where the disease is present. Benton County leads the state in CWD positives with 183 positives. Last year 302 tested samples in Benton County had a prevalence rate for  one positive for every eight samples. Fiscal Year 2024 to date, Benton County has 199 tested samples with a prevalence rate of  one positive in six samples. 

Warren County had 309 tested samples last year and found one positive for every 155 samples. In FY2024 to date, Warren County has 167 tested samples with a prevalence rate of one positive per 56 samples. 

Mississippi has 13 counties with confirmed detections of CWD now and nine counties have detected positives this year. Hunters are the most effective tool in the fight against CWD and the department needs their involvement. 

“CWD is spreading and we are finding it in new areas. The department takes it very seriously,” McKinley said. “We are hearing reports from landowners in north Benton County who are finding dead deer on properties with high infection rates. They are telling us that they are finding multiple dead deer now. We need hunters to help us fight the disease. Get your deer sampled and help us find it. Follow the regulations in CWD zones to slow its spread.”