Chronic Wasting Disease Fears Grow


They call them Zombie Deer.

The real name for what’s affecting them is Chronic Wasting Disease. It is a contagious neurological disease affecting deer, elk and moose that causes a characteristic spongy degeneration of the brains of infected animals resulting in emaciation, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions and death. It is called the Zombie Deer Disease because of the way it makes the deer behave. CWD is also contagious, and from February 2018 to March of this year, 19 confirmed cases were reported statewide, and two in Issaquena County according to the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. Most of the samples that contributed to that count were given voluntarily, so the number could be much higher.

The MDWFP map of samples provided to find cases of CWD.

The Great Backwater Flood of 2019 has likely made cases of CWD more extensive. With floodwater covering some 550,000 acres of land in the South Delta, in some areas thousands of acres are underwater with no high ground to be found. The wildlife in those areas has nowhere to go. Different species are forced onto the same patch of land, with predators and prey sitting in the same small feeding area. With the Backwater Flood in its 4th month, those small patches provided almost no shelter and now are no longer providing food. This is causing some animals to starve and others to seek a better area to feed. Those seeking another area are crossing roadways.

The combination of small, crowded feeding areas and chronic wasting disease has stoked fears the disease may reach epidemic proportions and cross over to other species, including humans. In a report from USA Today, Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said CWD has been confirmed in 25 states and offered this warning on CWD: “It is probable that human cases of chronic wasting disease associated with consumption with contaminated meat will be documented in the years ahead. “It’s possible the number of human cases will be substantial, and will not be isolated events.”

His best advice is to not any eat meat from wild animals unless it has been tested.

For those who travel through the Delta these days, the site of roadkill is epidemic. The number of animals that have been hit and killed on the roadways is alarming. David Childers travels Highway 61 to work most days.

“This is alligator number TWENTY-SEVEN that’s been hit in a 5-mile stretch between north Redwood and Valley Park. Not to mention, MANY deer, raccoons, possums, bobcats and snapping turtles. And this is just in the Redwood/Valley Park area,” Childers wrote in a message to the Vicksburg Daily News. “There is no telling the number of dead wildlife over half a million acres that have been flooded for over four months”.

David Childers provided this photo of a dead alligator on the side of the road in northern Warren County.

Although it may be tempting to grab an animal that was just killed on the roadway, have the meat tested for the disease. If you can’t have it tested, don’t risk it.

(The featured image of a starving deer is from Melissa Lum Lyons.)