Chronic Wasting Disease FAQ's

  •  What is Chronic Wasting Disease?

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a contagious neurological disease that has been found in cervids which include deer, elk and moose.

  • What causes CWD?

CWD is caused by a “prion”, which is an abnormal protein that is most commonly found in the nervous system and lymphatic (lymph node) system. The prion infects the animal and does not stimulate any immune response.

  • Is there a cure for CWD?

No. CWD is a prion disease, which unlike a virus, bacteria, or fungus, has no known cure.

  • How does CWD spread?

CWD prions are spread into the environment through bodily fluids such as blood, feces, urine and saliva. When deer come in close contact with one another, or when they share a common food source that an infected deer has visited, they are at higher risk of exposure and thus at a higher risk of becoming infected with the disease. Deer can also be exposed to the prion from the landscape by eating food that may have grown out of infected soil. Research has shown that the CWD prions can be found on the landscape for years after they have been shed from an animal.

  • What are the symptoms of a deer with CWD?

Generally, an animal will show no outward signs of CWD until the disease is in its final stages, which can take 18 months to two years due to CWD’s long incubation period.

If an animal survives to the final stages of CWD, which is always fatal, the most clear and consistent sign is emaciation or very low body weight and condition. Excessive drinking and urination are also common in the terminal stages.

Behavioral changes also occur in the final stages of CWD. Cervids will have decreased interactions with other animals, listlessness, lowering of the head, blank facial expressions and repetitive walking in set patterns. Excessive salivation, drooling and grinding teeth has also been observed in animals in the final stages of CWD.

  •  How is CWD detected?

There is no way to detect CWD in live deer by evaluating the clinical signs and symptoms. The only conclusive diagnosis can occur by an examination of the brain and lymph nodes after death.

To have your deer tested in Michigan, you may take your deer head to a DNR Check Station, partnering meat processors and taxidermists, or a DNR drop box. To learn more about this process visit the DNR website, CWD Testing. Please note that there are methods to have your deer tested while keeping the head for mounting.

  •  Is CWD transmissible to humans?

There is no evidence that CWD is a risk to human health. However, it is recommended, out of an abundance of caution, to not eat meat from animals who are known to be infected with CWD.

Hunters are encouraged to bone out their meat and not consume parts of the animal where prions likely accumulate. Public health officials as well as wildlife management professionals recommend that hunters harvesting deer in areas where CWD has been identified, as well as processors and taxidermists, use common sense measures to avoid exposure to CWD and other zoonotic pathogens such as:

  • Do not shoot, handle or consume any animal that appears to be sick or acting abnormally.
  • Wear disposable latex or rubber gloves when field dressing an animal.
  • Bone out the meat from your animal; do not saw through bone and avoid cutting through the brain or spinal cord (backbone).
  • Minimize the handling of brain and spinal tissue.
  • Wash your hands and any instruments that you use after field dressing is complete; tools such as cutlery and non-porous cutting surfaces can be soaked in a 40% bleach solution for 5 minutes.
  • Can livestock or equine get CWD?

Livestock, including cattle and other domestic livestock, appear to be resistant to natural infection through the environment or direct contact with deer.

  •  Can other wildlife species be affected by CWD?

Currently only four species of the deer family—white-tailed deer, elk, mule deer, and moose—are known to be naturally susceptible to CWD. Susceptibility of other members of the deer family and other wildlife species is not known at this time. There is ongoing research to determine the answer to this question.

  •  What is the best way to dispose of a deer carcass to limit the spread of CWD?

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recommends that carcasses and carcass parts are disposed of to an approved landfill or use your regular trash pick-up that will be taken to the landfill. DO NOT dispose of the head, spine, or other restricted parts of a deer by placing them openly on the ground.

If it is necessary to bury a carcass, do so as close to the kill site as possible and deep enough to prevent scavengers from digging it up.