North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission

Deer Diseases

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)

Introduction

Important: There has been no confirmed case of CWD in North Carolina. See where CWD has been detected.

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) disease in cervids (members of the deer family); characterized by the accumulation of prions in brain cells that eventually burst, leaving microscopic empty spaces in the brain matter giving it  a "spongy" appearance. Related diseases include: scrapie in sheep and goats; bovine spongiform encephalopathy (also known as “mad cow”) in cattle; transmissible mink encephalopathy; and Creautzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

The source of the disease is an abnormal form of a prion, which is a protein, found in the central nervous system and lymphoid tissue. When the disease prions accumulate in the brains of infected animals, it often causes behavior changes such as decreased interactions with other animals, listlessness, lowering of the head, a blank facial expression, and walking in set patterns (see CWD Fact Sheet PDF). Though the exact transmission mechanism is unknown, CWD is thought to be transmitted directly through animal-to-animal contact as well as indirectly through contaminated landscapes and materials. It can take over 16 months after infection for an afflicted animal to develop clinical symptoms of the disease. Once they do, the infected animals become emaciated and eventually die.

To date, CWD has been primarily found in elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, moose, and reindeer/caribou in North America. The susceptibility of exotic cervids and other wildlife species is currently unknown.

Until the spring of 2005, the nearest case to North Carolina was in northern Illinois. In April 2005, New York wildlife officials reported CWD in two captive herds and among wild deer nearby. In September 2005, wildlife officials from West Virginia reported that CWD had been detected in a wild deer from the northeastern portion of their state. In 2010 and 2011, CWD was detected just across the West Virginia border in the states of Virginia and Maryland, respectively. In October 2012, Pennsylvania’s first case of CWD was detected in a captive white-tailed deer.

The Wildlife Resources Commission has been conducting surveillance for CWD since 1999. More than 7,564 samples have been submitted for testing. CWD has currently not been detected. For more information concerning CWD, download our CWD Fact Sheet (PDF) and/or visit the http://www.cwd-info.org/.

Chronic Waste Disease Response Plan

Legislation

On May 17, 2002, the Wildlife Resources Commission adopted emergency rules to prevent the introduction of Chronic Wasting Disease into North Carolina and to minimize the spread of this disease should it be found within our state. The Wildlife Resources Commission rules related to CWD are listed below. If you have any questions about these rules, please contact Merril Cook, our Wildlife Health Biologist and Captive Cervid Liaison, at (919) 707-0075.

FAQs

What is Chronic Wasting Disease?

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) disease in cervids (members of the deer family); characterized by the accumulation of prions in brain cells that eventually burst, leaving microscopic empty spaces in the brain matter or a "spongy" appearance. Related diseases include: scrapie in sheep and goats; bovine spongiform encephalopathy (also known as “mad cow”) in cattle; transmissible mink encephalopathy; and Creautzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

The source of the disease is an abnormal form of a prion, which is a protein, found in the central nervous system and lymphoid tissue. When the disease prions accumulate in the brains of infected animals, it often causes behavior changes such as decreased interactions with other animals, listlessness, lowering of the head, a blank facial expression, and walking in set patterns (see “What are the Signs of Chronic Wasting Disease?”). Though the exact transmission mechanism is unknown, CWD is thought to be transmitted directly through animal-to-animal contact as well as indirectly through contaminated landscapes and materials. It can take over 16 months after infection for an afflicted animal to develop clinical symptoms of the disease. Once they do, the infected animals become emaciated and eventually die.

What are the Signs of Chronic Wasting Disease?

  • Isolation from other animals
  • Listlessness or showing little or no interest in their surroundings
  • Lack of coordination
  • Frequent lowering of the head
  • Blank facial expressions
  • Walking in set patterns
  • Drooling and grinding of teeth
  • Drinking lots of water and increased urination
  • Low weight

 

Other deer diseases may present with similar signs. Only a laboratory test can confirm the presence of Chronic Wasting Disease. Currently, the only USDA approved test for CWD is a microscopic examination of the brain and lymph node tissue, which must be acquired after death.

Where is Chronic Wasting Disease Found?

Currently, CWD is found in the following states and provinces. *Updated last: 4/2016*

United States:

Arkansas New York
Colorado

North Dakota

Illinois Ohio
Iowa Oklahoma
Kansas Pennsylvania

Maryland

South Dakota

Michigan

Texas
Minnesota Utah
Missouri Virginia
Montana West Virginia
Nebraska

Wisconsin

New Mexico

Wyoming

 

Canada Provinces:

Alberta           Saskatchewan

 

CWD has also been detected in farmed sika deer in the Republic of Korea and a free-range reindeer in South-Norway. For more information on each State’s status, visit http://www.cwd-info.org/.

What should I do if I See a Suspicious Deer?

If you see a deer exhibiting disease symptoms, you can call your local District Biologist or the Wildlife Resources Commission Wildlife Management Division at 919-707-0050.

 

If you have harvested a deer that was showing symptoms, leave the animal at the site of the kill and call your local District Biologist or the Wildlife Resources Commission Wildlife Division at 919-707-0050. Do not validate the animal on your Big Game Harvest Report Card as you may be offered the option of submitting the entire deer to the WRC for disease testing. If you do submit the entire animal for testing, it will not count towards your annual bag limit.

What if I’m Hunting Outside of North Carolina?

Anyone returning with a deer, elk, moose, and/or reindeer/caribou taken in any state or province where Chronic Wasting Disease has been confirmed (see “Where is Chronic Wasting Disease Found?” or visit http://www.cwd-info.org/) must follow North Carolina’s processing and packaging regulations, which allows the transportation of:

  • Meat that is cut and wrapped
  • Quarters or other portions of meat with no part of the spinal column or head attached
  • Meat that has been boned out
  • Caped hides
  • Cleaned skull plates
  • Antlers with no meat or tissue attached
  • Cleaned teeth
  • Finished taxidermy products

 

See Legislation 15A NCAC 10B .0124 (Importation of Animal Parts).

What Precautions can I take if Hunting Outside North Carolina?

If you are hunting in a state or province where Chronic Wasting Disease has been confirmed (see “Where is Chronic Wasting Disease Found?” or visit http://www.cwd-info.org/), public health and wildlife officials recommend taking the following precautions when pursuing and/or handling deer, elk or moose:

  • Do NOT shoot, handle or consume any animal that is acting abnormal or appears to be sick
  • Wear latex or rubber gloves when field dressing
  • Bone out the meat and follow the disposal regulations of the state you’re hunting in (Note: don’t saw through bone and avoid cutting through the brain or spinal cord unless removing the head, in which case, use a knife designated for this purpose)
  • Minimize the handling of the brain and spinal cord (backbone)
  • Wash hands, boots, and instruments thoroughly after field dressing is completed
  • If you have your deer, elk, moose or reindeer commercially processed, request that your animal is processed individually and without meat from other animals

 

For more information,see our Processing Deer and Handling Precautions (PDF).

Should I Eat the Venison of a Potentially Diseased Deer?

The World Health Organization states there is no scientific evidence verifying that CWD can infect humans. However, for optimal safety, the Wildlife Resources Commission recommends people do NOT eat:

  • Meat from a deer that looks sick
  • Any of the following organs: brain, eyes, spinal cord, spleen, tonsils and lymph nodes*
  • Any meat from an animal that tests positive for the disease

 

*Normal field dressing coupled with boning out a carcass will remove most (if not all) of these body parts. Cutting away all fatty tissue will remove remaining lymph nodes.

Should I have my Deer Tested?

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a contagious neurological disease affecting deer and elk. Only four species in the deer family—white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, moose, and reindeer/caribou—are currently known to be susceptible to CWD in North America. While the disease has not been found in North Carolina, the Wildlife Resources Commission has submitted 7,498 samples for testing since 1999. CWD has currently not been detected. Very specific brain and lymph node tissues are required for testing, and the USDA has only certified approximately 28 state and federal laboratories to test deer for the presence of CWD. Hunters should not shoot, handle, or consume any animal that is acting abnormally or otherwise appears to be sick. Contact your local District Biologist or the Wildlife Resources Commission Wildlife Division (919-707-0050) if such an animal is observed and they will indicate if testing is possible and what tissue is required. More information concerning CWD can be found on the CWD Alliance Web site (http://www.cwd-info.org/). This website is updated regularly and serves as the primary information resource for professional wildlife managers and the hunting public. Links to specific topics of interest are also provided below.

Research

Prior to 2002, CWD samples were not collected as part of a systematic effort. Most were collected from animals displaying clinical characteristics of the disease and during herd health evaluations. After CWD was first documented east of the Mississippi River, a statewide systematic surveillance was conducted using a quad-block-square mapping system. One thousand four hundred and eighty-eight samples were collected, and CWD was not detected (Douglass et al.). Since then, statewide surveillance sampling has been conducted routinely every 5 years. Every year, our field staff attempts to sample any deer that shows any signs of disease or has died of unknown causes. More than 7,564 samples have been submitted for testing.

 

Douglass, K.E., Stanford, V.E., Cobb, D.T. (2005) Chronic Wasting Disease Surveillance in North Carolina. Proc. Annu. Conf. SEAFWA 59: 79-88

 

Important: There has been no confirmed case of CWD in North Carolina. See where CWD has been detected.

Captive Cervid Program

On September 30, 2015, captive cervid regulatory authority was transferred from the Wildlife Resources Commission to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS). Until the NCDA&CS is able to adopt rules their department can implement for the Captive Cervid Program, they are enforcing the temporary rules adopted by the Wildlife Resources Commission in December 2014. The Wildlife Resources Commission rules related to the Captive Cervid Program are listed below.

 

Updates to this information will be made as soon as it is available. If you have any questions about these rules, please contact Merril Cook, our Wildlife Health Biologist and Captive Cervid Liaison, at (919) 707-0075.

Related Links

Hemorrhagic Disease

Hemorrhagic Disease is the most important infectious disease of white-tailed deer, and outbreaks occur almost every year in the Southeast. It is caused by either of two closely related viruses, epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) virus or bluetongue virus. Because disease features produced by these viruses are indistinguishable, a general term, hemorrhagic disease, often is used when the specific virus responsible is unknown. Because EHD and bluetongue viruses are transmitted by biting flies, hemorrhagic disease is seasonal and occurs in late summer and early fall. 

Hemorrhagic Disease Report for District 3, 2014 (PDF)

Hemorrhagic Disease 2012 (PDF)

Hemorrhagic Disease Presentation Video

Southeastern Wildlife Disease Study Information on Hemorrhagic Disease of Whitetail Deer (PDF)


 

Hunting and West Nile Virus 

West Nile virus is an infectious disease of birds that can also infect humans. The virus is transmitted by mosquitoes. According to the North Carolina Division of Public Health, West Nile virus may cause flu-like symptoms in humans, such as headache, swollen glands and muscle aches, as well as a rash. Usually West Nile virus only causes mild disease in humans, but in rare cases the virus may cause encephalitis and even death. Elderly people and those with compromised immune systems are most likely to be severely affected by West Nile virus.


Seen a Sick Deer?

If you have seen or harvested a sick deer, please call your local District Biologist or the Wildlife Management Division at 919-707-0050.

Signs to look for:

  • Isolation from other animals
  • Listlessness or showing little or no interest in their surroundings
  • Lack of coordination
  • Frequent lowering of the head
  • Blank facial expressions
  • Walking in set patterns    
  • Drooling and grinding of teeth
  • Drinking lots of water and increased urination
  • Low weight

For more information, see our Chronic Wasting Disease Fact Sheet (PDF).