40 deer tested in Mississippi had deadly brain disease, wildlife officials say

A deadly brain disease has been found or suspected in at least 40 deer in Mississippi, and state wildlife officials are urging hunters to continue providing samples through the end of deer season.

"Deer harvest begins to tail off this time of the season. I hope we will get several hundred more before the season is over, if not a thousand or so," Russ Walsh, wildlife chief of staff for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Chronic wasting disease, or CWD, is sometimes known as "zombie deer disease." It is a highly infectious disease caused by a fatal prion, also known as an abnormal protein, according to the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks website. According to the website, the prions are typically found in the eyes, lymph nodes and nervous tissues of deer.

The disease affects deer, elk, moose and other members of the cervidae family, according to the Clarion-Ledger.

Other animals can become infected by coming in contact with a deer carrying the disease. The prions can be shed by infected animals by saliva, blood, feces and urine, the wildlife department said on its website.

Nearly all the infected and suspected deer were found in northern Mississippi counties, according to the AP. Wildlife officials said 25 were killed or found in Benton County, while 10 were found in neighboring Marshall County.

Those two counties border southwest Tennessee, where cases of CWD have been reported.

“It’s likely tied in with the cases they have,” Walsh said.

There have been no confirmed cases of CWD in humans, the Clarion-Ledger reported. However, hunters are encouraged to handle deer meat with extra care, the newspaper reported.

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