STARKVILLE, Miss. (WJTV) – Leaders with the Mississippi State University (MSU) Extension Service said deer hunters are urgently needed to participate in the battle to limit the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD) among the state’s white-tailed deer population.

CWD is a 100% fatal, transmissible, neurogenerative disease. One challenge of detecting the disease is that until deer enter the last stages of CWD, they often appear completely healthy.

Hunter participation in efforts to control CWD includes submitting harvested deer for testing, harvesting younger bucks, and discontinuing the use of supplemental feeding and baiting to help keep deer from congregating.

Bronson Strickland, a wildlife specialist with the MSU Extension Service, said CWD is dangerously different from other diseases that affect deer.

“Other devastating diseases of deer have a disease cycle endpoint, such as the arrival of cold weather,” Strickland said. “That does not happen with CWD, as the disease slowly kills the individual deer and takes time to move through the area’s population.”

CWD was first identified in Colorado in 1967, and it spread throughout the West. It was first seen east of the Mississippi River in Wisconsin in 2002.

The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks (MDWFP), which regulates wildlife and hunting in Mississippi, began looking for CWD among the state’s deer at that time. The first positive in the state was detected in February 2018 in Issaquena County.

Since then, there have been 134 CWD-positive deer reported in the state in nine counties: Issaquena (2), Pontotoc (1), Marshall (35), Benton (87), Panola (1), Tallahatchie (1), Tippah (2), Alcorn (3) and Warren (2).

“If ignored, the disease will reach the point of no return in localized areas,” Strickland said. “Our goal is to keep CWD at a low prevalence in Mississippi.”

William McKinley, deer program coordinator with MDWFP, said CWD is easily transmissible to deer through saliva, feces, urine or a contaminated environment. The amount of positive material needed to infect deer 100% of the time is the size of one very fine grain of sand.

“Conditions are ripe for CWD’s spread when an infected deer congregates with other deer in a small area, such as around a salt lick or feeder,” McKinley said. “Because the disease transmits so easily, we urge hunters and wildlife managers to lower deer density and eliminate practices that encourage deer to congregate.”

MDWFP allows more deer to be harvested in CWD zones and forbids supplemental feeding in these areas.

The next important step is for hunters to leave the heads of harvested deer at one of the state’s 63 drop-off sites. Agency officials collect the heads weekly, test them for CWD and provide the results at no cost to the hunters. MDWFP also works with more than 60 participating taxidermists statewide to collect samples for CWD testing.