Preventing Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)

What Is Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)

Not the most pleasant topic but nonetheless, Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is the most important disease affecting deer and elk populations in North America.

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a progressive, fatal disease that affects the brain, spinal cord, and many other tissues of farmed and free-ranging deer, elk, and moose. No treatments or vaccines are currently available.

Chronic wasting disease is of great concern to wildlife managers. It has been detected in at least 23 states, two Canadian provinces, and South Korea. CWD is not known to infect livestock or humans.

CWD is transmitted directly through animal-to-animal contact, and indirectly through contact with objects or environment contaminated with infectious material (including saliva, urine, feces, and carcasses of CWD-infected animals).

Incubation Period

CWD may have an incubation period of over a year and clear neurological signs may develop slowly. Deer, elk, reindeer, sika, and moose with CWD may not show any signs of the disease for years after they become infected. As CWD progresses, infected animals may have a variety of changes in behavior and appearance.

These may include:

  • drastic weight loss (wasting)
  • stumbling
  • lack of coordination
  • listlessness
  • drooling
  • excessive thirst or urination
  • drooping ears
  • lack of fear of people

Don’t Dump the Carcass

Once an animal with CWD dies, any part of the carcass can transmit the disease for at least 2 years. Hunters should always contact their local state fish and game agency on how to properly dispose of the carcass.

How to Report

Hunters should check with the state fish and game agency about any reported outbreaks of CWD, and the following simple precautions should be taken when handling any deer, moose or elk:

  • Do not shoot, handle or consume any animal that is acting abnormally or appears to be ill. Contact your state fish and game agency if you see or harvest an animal that appears ill.
  • Wear latex or rubber gloves when field dressing deer, moose or elk. When skinning the animal, use extra caution around the anus and other areas that may be soiled by stool.
  • If removing antlers, use a saw specifically kept for this purpose and dispose of the blade afterward.
  • Remove bones from the animal by separating them at joints instead of sawing through the bones and avoid cutting through the brain or spinal cord except to remove the head. Use a knife specifically kept for this purpose to minimize the risk of contaminating meat.
  • Minimize handling of all brain and spinal tissues.
  • Wash hands and tools thoroughly after field dressing is completed.
  • Avoid consuming the brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils and lymph nodes of harvested animals. Normal field dressing, coupled with boning out a carcass, will remove most, if not all, of these body parts. Cutting away all fat and connective tissue will remove any remaining lymph nodes.
  • If your deer has been chosen to be sampled for CWD, do not eat any meat until test results have been returned. In some states, this may take weeks to months, so if there is any concern, dispose of the carcass.
  • If you have your deer, moose or elk commercially processed, request that your animal is processed individually, without meat from other animals being added to the meat from your animal.