The Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) is assisting the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks (MDWFP) in its efforts to monitor chronic wasting disease (CWD), an infectious deer disease.
In the past year, MDWFP reported 19 cases of CWD in Mississippi. This year, two more cases have been confirmed, and another 10 are suspected. CWD is a brain-degenerating disease that primarily affects deer and other cervids. It has been found in 24 states, including Tennessee and Arkansas.
To monitor and understand the disease, MDWFP samples deer throughout Mississippi during the current hunting season. As frontline employees, MDOT maintenance workers are often responsible for removing roadkill from highways and rights-of-way.
“Since MDOT maintenance workers monitor the highways daily, they are in a unique position to assist our fellow state agency to achieve its sampling goal,” says Melinda McGrath, executive director, MDOT. “By notifying MDWFP of deer locations, MDOT is helping wildlife agents to more efficiently gather CWD data.”
According to MDWFP officials, roadkill is the second best sample source after sick deer are observed in the environment. Samples from hunted deer are the next best source.
CWD is caused by misfolded brain proteins called prions. Prions are able to survive in infected animals, soil, vegetation and water. Deer contract the disease by eating infected food, drinking infected water or coming into contact with infected animals.
“While the number of cases are few and geographically diverse, MDOT is joining MDWFP in being proactive to locate potential CWD cases,” says McGrath. “By working together, we can better understand CWD, its effects and how it spreads in the environment.”
To assist MDWFP, MDOT workers move road kill to the edge of the right-of-way and record the GPS location. After wildlife agents take a sample, the deer is left in place to prevent any potential transmission.
MDWFP has also established drop off locations throughout the state which allow hunters to submit deer for sampling. More samples are needed, especially in the southern counties.
“MDOT workers serve the state in ways many Mississippians are not aware of, and shared government resources are a benefit to every taxpayer,” says McGrath. “Hunting is an important part of the economy and way of life in Mississippi. Citizens can help by submitting deer for sampling.”
For more information about CWD, visit www.mdwfp.com/wildlife-hunting/chronic-waisting-disease/.