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Wildlife and Fish Health - Chronic Wasting Disease of Deer and Elk

Questions and Answers about Chronic Wasting Disease

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a fatal neurologic disease of cervids (deer, elk, moose, reindeer). It is caused by an infectious misfolded protein called a prion, which leads to progressive damage to the brain of infected animals.

What are the symptoms of Chronic Wasting Disease?

Animals infected with CWD gradually lose body condition (fat and muscle mass), becoming emaciated. They may behave abnormally, displaying a wide stance, staggering gait, or inability to keep their head up with excessive salivation and thirst. The disease is ultimately fatal to all infected animals.

How do animals get Chronic Wasting Disease?

The disease can be spread through direct contact with infected individuals or an environment contaminated with infectious material (drinking water, food, soil). Infectious prions may be shed by infected animals in urine, feces, and saliva.

Can Chronic Wasting Disease be Spread to Humans?

There are no documented cases of CWD in people. However, ODFW and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that hunters do not consume animals that test positive for CWD or that otherwise appear sick.

How is Chronic Wasting Disease diagnosed?

Approved tests in free-ranging deer and elk involve testing lymph nodes and brainstem in deceased animals. For this reason, sampling hunter-harvested animals remains the most reliable and efficient method for testingĀ  and surveillance.

Where is Chronic Wasting Disease?

CWD has been detected in free-ranging and captive deer, elk, and moose in 30 states and four Canadian provinces. While the disease has not yet been detected in Oregon, it was recently confirmed in deer and elk in western Idaho within 30 miles of Oregon’s border.

Why do we care about Chronic Wasting Disease?

CWD is a fatal disease which threatens the health of our wild deer and elk herds. Prevalence of the disease is increasing across the country and studies have shown declines in deer abundance associated with CWD epidemics. While the disease has not been detected in Oregon, the potential exists for CWD to spread to Oregon deer and elk populations.

Prompt detection of CWD, should it spread to Oregon, is paramount to rapid response and disease management.

What is Oregon doing to manage and monitor for CWD?

While CWD has not been found in Oregon, it is essential to conduct surveillance for the disease and to take preemptive action to minimize the risk to Oregon’s deer and elk populations. Oregon’s legislative and regulatory actions have helped reduce the risk of importing CWD to our state. These include:

  • Banning the importation of captive deer and elk (and other cervids)
  • Limiting what hunters can bring in from out-of-state hunts; “no deer, elk, or moose parts containing central nervous system tissue from any outside state or province”. This includes the brain and spinal cord of harvested animals.
  • Banning deer/elk urine scent lures

Learn more about CWD


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