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

Questions and Answers about Chronic Wasting Disease

Planning to hunt deer, elk or moose in another state?

Many states have regulations to limit the spread of CWD that effect how hunters can transport their harvest. Find out more about state regulations at the CWD Alliance web page and remember as of Jan. 1, 2019 it is illegal to bring deer, elk or moose parts containing central nervous system tissue into Oregon from any state or province.

Ban on deer/elk urine scent begins Jan. 1, 2020 to protect wildlife from CWD: Safely dispose of urine scent products at ODFW collection sites

What is Chronic Wasting Disease?

A transmissible spongiform encephalopathy that has been documented in deer, elk or moose in the following states: Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, North Dakota, South Dakota, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, New York, North Dakota, Texas, West Virginia, Virginia, and the Canadian provinces of Albert and Saskatchewan. (September 2011). It has not been detected in deer or elk in Oregon.

This disease damages portions of the brain and typically causes progressive loss of body condition, behavioral changes, excessive salivation and death.

A type of prion protein has been found in the brains of affected animals, and is believed to be the cause of the disease.

How is it transmitted?

The origin and mode of transmission of CWD is unknown. Experimental and observation evidence suggests infection occurs by animal-to-animal contact, maternal (dam to fetus), and/or contamination of feed or water sources with saliva., urine, and feces.

The estimated incubation period is two to three years.

Is it Transmissible to humans or livestock?

During the approximately two decades of monitoring, public health officials and researchers have not found any evidence that CWD can be transmitted to humans or to animals other than deer and elk.


Currently, there is no effective live animal test for this disease. Definitive diagnosis is based on microscopic examination of the brain.

What is being done?

States that have CWD in wild deer and elk are considering reducing herd densities. Across the U.S., many state wildlife and agricultural agencies are monitoring wild and captive cervid populations for CWD. States that have had CWD in captive elk are attempting to eradicate the disease by depopulating any affected herds and develop importation and monitoring programs. There is continued research to better understand the biology of the disease.

How can I tell if a deer or elk has CWD?

Infected animals begin to lose bodily functions and display abnormal behavior such as staggering or standing with very poor posture. An infected animal may have an exaggerated wide posture, or may carry its head and ears lowered. Infected animals become very emaciated (thus the term ‘wasting’ disease) and will appear in very poor condition. Infected animals often will stand near water and will consume large amounts of water. Drooling or excessive salivation may be apparent.

What should I do if I see an animal that shows CWD symptoms?

Never shoot animals that look sick. If you see a deer or elk that appears sick, accurately document the location of the animal and immediately contact the nearest ODFW office or the Wildlife Health Lab at 866-968-2600. Do not attempt to touch, disturb, kill or remove the animal.

What precautions should I take when hunting?

CWD has not been shown to affect humans at this time. However, health officials advise hunters not to consume meat from animals known to be infected with CWD. Health officials also suggest hunters routinely take the following precautions – wear latex or rubber gloves when field dressing carcasses; minimize handling of brain and spinal tissues; wash hands and instruments thoroughly after field dressing is completed; and avoid consuming brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils and lymph nodes of harvested animals. In addition, hunters should take the precaution of requesting that each animal is processed individually, without meat from other animals being added.

Learn more about CWD


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