Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a prion disease that affects deer, elk, reindeer, sika deer, and moose (e.g., members of the cervid species). CWD has been found in some areas of North America, including 3 Canadian provinces and 32 states within the United States, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and South Korea. It may take over a year before an infected animal develops symptoms, which can include drastic weight loss (wasting), stumbling, listlessness, and other neurologic symptoms. CWD can affect cervids of all ages and some infected animals may die without ever developing the disease. CWD is fatal to cervids and there are no treatments or vaccines.

The endemic CWD problem in states such as Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, among others, is concerning for those who routinely hunt and consume deer meat. The NPDPSC coordinates with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health departments to monitor cases from CWD-
endemic areas.

To be as safe as possible and decrease their potential risk of exposure to CWD, hunters should take the following steps when hunting in areas with CWD:

  • Do not shoot, handle or eat meat from deer and elk that look sick or are acting strangely or are found dead (road-kill).
  • When field-dressing a deer:
    • Wear latex or rubber gloves when dressing the animal or handling the meat.
    • Minimize how much you handle the organs of the animal, particularly the brain or spinal cord tissues.
    • Do not use household knives or other kitchen utensils for field dressing.
  • Check state wildlife and public health guidance to see whether testing of animals is recommended or required. Recommendations vary by state, but information about testing is available from many state wildlife agencies.
  • Strongly consider having the deer or elk tested for CWD before you eat the meat.
  • If you have your deer or elk commercially processed, consider asking that your animal be processed individually to avoid mixing meat from multiple animals.
  • If your animal tests positive for CWD, do not eat meat from that animal.

To date, there is no evidence that CWD has been transmitted to humans. However, incubation periods for acquired cases of prion disease can sometimes last decades. Continuing surveillance of human prion diseases, especially neuropathological surveillance, is vital to ensure that novel prion diseases are not emerging in humans.

For further information on CWD, please click to read the information provided on the CDC website, and on the website.