Deer Diseases


Chronic Wasting Disease

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a transmissible, always fatal, neurological disease that affects deer and other cervids such as elk, moose and reindeer/caribou. CWD was detected in North Carolina in March 2022. In response, CWD Surveillance Areas and special regulations were initiated. Visit our CWD page for more information.


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 Flyer (PDF)

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.



The SARS-CoV-2 virus, that causes COVID-19 in humans, has been detected in wild white-tailed deer inIowa and Ohio. Some states began testing live deer following initial work by the US Department of Agriculture that confirmed the susceptibility of captive deer to the virus and still other research that detected antibodies to the virus in wild deer in Illinois, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania. So far, COVID testing in wild deer has been limited to only a few states, but increased testing is occurring locally and nationally.

COVID-19 Precautions for Handling and Processing Deer (PDF) December 2021

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?

Distribution of Chronic Wasting Disease in North America



United States


Northeast Region


Southeast Region

USA Southeast Region Map


Southwest Region

USA Southwest Region Map


Midwest Region

USA Midwest Region Map


West Region

USA West Coast Region Map





Canada CWD Map




Alberta and Saskatchewan


Canada CWD Map

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 Helpline at 1-866-318-2401.


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 Helpline at 1-866-318-2401.

What if I’m Hunting Outside of North Carolina?

Anyone returning or transporting a deer, elk, moose, or reindeer/caribou from any state, Canadian province, or foreign country outside of North Carolina must follow the processing and packaging regulations, which allow:

  • Meat that has been boned out such that no pieces or fragments of bone remain;
  • Caped hides with no part of the skull or spinal column attached;
  • Antlers, antlers attached to cleaned skull plates, or cleaned skulls free from meat or brain tissue;
  • Cleaned lower jawbone(s) with teeth or cleaned teeth; or
  • Finished taxidermy products and tanned hides.

See Rules For Importation of Deer Carcasses and Carcass Parts (PDF).


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, 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 11,407 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 ( 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.

Seen a Sick Deer?

If you have seen or harvested a sick deer, please call your local District Biologist or the Wildlife Helpline at 1-866-318-2401.

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).