Chronic wasting disease (CWD) has not yet been found in Mississippi, but that doesn't mean hunters can ignore the problem.

“North American hunters and the wildlife resources they value most are about to face their greatest challenge since white-tailed deer were nearly eliminated almost 100 years ago,” says Larry Castle, coordinator of the white-tailed deer program with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks (MDWFP). “The technical nature of this disease demands that hunters become better informed if they are to understand and support science-based measures to control the disease.”

Castle will provide the latest information on the disease and the symptoms growers should watch for as well as precautions they should take to keep Mississippi's deer herd healthy at a special session of the Delta Ag Expo. He will discuss CWD at 1 p.m., Jan. 22, at the Expo meeting complex at the Bolivar County Expo Center in Cleveland, Miss.

Over the last 35 years chronic wasting disease (CWD) has grown from a novel captive deer syndrome, of only local interest to scientists in Colorado and Wyoming, into the most notorious wildlife disease of our time.

“The danger of CWD to Mississippi is very real. CWD is invariably fatal. There is no treatment for the disease, no vaccination for prevention, and no practical live animal test to determine if an animal is infected,” says Castle. “Laboratory analysis of the brain of a dead animal is the only method currently accepted by the USDA as conclusive. Once this disease occurs in an area, evidence from the past 30 years demonstrates that it will not go away on its own — aggressive intervention is required to manage the impacts.”

CWD is a progressively degenerative fatal disease that attacks the central nervous system of members of the deer family. It has been diagnosed in elk, mule deer, black-tailed deer and white-tailed deer in several Western states. In February 2002, the first case was confirmed east of the Mississippi River in Wisconsin. In the summer of 2002, the disease was found in white-tailed deer in New Mexico and Minnesota.

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.

Castle says even though no cases of the CWD have been documented in Mississippi, hunters should avoid shooting, handling, or consuming any animal that appears sick and they should contact the MDWFP at 601-432-2400 if they see or harvest an animal that appears sick.

The 30th Annual Delta Ag Expo will take place Jan. 21-22 at the Bolivar County Exposition Center in Cleveland. Opening day activities will feature an 11:30 a.m. keynote address by Mississippi native and U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Bill Hawks.

The event, co-sponsored by the MSU Extension Service and the Delta Ag Expo Corp., offers ag-related seminars and more than 125 commercial and educational exhibits. As part of the event's 30th anniversary celebration, the first 100 people to register who were farming or involved in the agriculture industry in 1974 will receive a special gift. They also will be entered for a chance to win a grand prize at the conclusion of the two-day event.

The Expo opens daily at 8:30 a.m. Admission is free.

For more information, contact Don Respess or Kay Garrard at 662-843-8361 or e-mail drespess@ext.msstate.edu or kayg@ext.msstate.edu.


Eva Ann Dorris is an ag journalist and from Pontotoc, Miss. She can be reached at 662-419-9176 or eadorris@aol.com.