Frequently Asked Questions for printing (PDF)
Download a printable Chronic Wasting Disease Fact Sheet
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy in cervids (including white-tailed and mule deer, as well as elk, moose, and reindeer/caribou). CWD is characterized by the accumulation of prions in brain cells that eventually cause microscopic holes in the brain, leading to death. Related diseases include: scrapie in sheep and goats; bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or “mad cow disease” in cattle; and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans (see CWD Fact Sheet). CWD can be transmitted directly through animal-to-animal contact as well as indirectly through contaminated soil, plants, and other materials. It takes at least 16 months for an infected animal to develop clinical signs of disease, and during this time they can appear completely healthy. Once an animal starts showing signs of the disease, it steadily loses body weight until it dies. There is currently no vaccine, treatment, or cure for CWD.
To date, CWD has been primarily found in white-tailed deer, elk, mule deer, moose, and reindeer/caribou in North America. The susceptibility of exotic cervids and other wildlife species is currently unknown.
It takes several decades for population effects of CWD to become noticeable. During this time the prevalence of the disease (percentage of the population that is infected) slowly climbs. As disease prevalence rises, the average life span of deer slowly declines because more deer are becoming infected and dying earlier because of CWD. Over time CWD causes a drain on the population because does die at younger ages with less opportunity to reproduce.
Deer with CWD can appear healthy for 16 months or more before they begin to show signs of disease. During that time, they can spread CWD to other animals and to the environment. Signs of CWD infection include:
Other deer diseases may present with similar signs. Only a laboratory test can confirm the presence of CWD. 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; there is no reliable live animal test for CWD.
Because of the prolonged incubation period (16 months or more), many CWD positive deer will die of other causes (e.g., hunting, automobiles), prior to showing visible signs of infection. Under relatively low prevalence rates, observations of deer with visible signs of CWD are rare.
Protecting the state’s deer and elk from the harmful impacts of CWD relies on early detection of the disease and limiting the movement of the infectious prions that cause the disease. As other states have learned, early detection is critical in being able to effectively manage the disease.
CWD has the potential to greatly impact North Carolina’s deer and elk populations and the tradition of deer hunting in our state. Robust testing is our most powerful tool to identify CWD wherever it occurs on the landscape and to effectively manage its spread.
The NCWRC has been testing for CWD since 1999 and has tested well over 22,000 deer. Currently, routine statewide surveillance occurs each year. Samples collected come from a variety of sources including vehicle-kills, voluntary hunter submissions and those supplied from cooperating taxidermists and meat processors. Additionally, more intensive surveillance is conducted in areas where CWD has been found.
CWD has been detected in the northwestern region of North Carolina. See Map of CWD distribution in North America (USGS website)
If you see or harvest a deer exhibiting signs of disease, leave the animal at the site of kill and call your local District Biologist or the NC Wildlife Helpline at 1-866-318-2401.
The precautions below should be followed when handling any wild game and help to minimize the risk of exposure and transmission of diseases or foodborne illness.
Download printable fact sheet.
Field Dressing and Home Processing
Never eat meat from a deer that looks sick. Never eat a deer’s:
To be sure you’ve removed all of the parts listed above:
Proper Disposal of Deer Harvested in North Carolina
CWD spreads between animals through saliva, urine and feces, either through direct contact or indirectly through environmental contamination, especially in the soil. CWD prions can remain active in the soil for a very long time, even through harsh weather and fire. Soil that contacts contaminated deer parts or fluids can hold CWD prions many years – even decades, causing other deer to contract the disease.
Taking precautions that reduce the movement of potentially infected deer parts or fluids around the landscape is crucial to managing the spread of CWD.
Learn how to properly dispose of deer harvested in North Carolina.
Anyone returning or transporting a deer, elk, moose or reindeer/caribou from any state, Canadian province or foreign country into North Carolina must follow the processing and packaging regulations, which allow the importation of:
See Rules for Importation of Deer Carcasses and Carcass Parts.
View the video below to learn how to prep a skull cape and deer plate for importation into North Carolina.
View the video below to learn how to prep a skull plate and deer cape for importation into North Carolina.
The Centers for Disease Control states that to date, there have been no reported cases of CWD infection in people. However, some animal studies suggest CWD poses a risk to certain types of non-human primates. The CDC states it is important to keep the agents of all known prion diseases (also including mad cow disease and scrapie in sheep) from entering the human food chain. For optimal safety, the NCWRC recommends people do NOT eat:
*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.
The abnormal proteins, or prions, that cause CWD are not easily destroyed. Prions can be frozen for extended periods of time and still be capable of causing CWD. Extremely high temperatures must be sustained for several hours to reliably destroy a prion. Prions cannot be “killed” with typical sanitizing chemicals but may be manually removed with disinfectant and scrubbing. Hunters should wear gloves and use designated tools/utensils to cut or handle high-risk parts such as the spinal cord, brain and other nervous system tissue. These tools/utensils should not be used to process meat intended for consumption and should be thoroughly disinfected between uses.
Once CWD prions have contaminated the ground in an area, they can remain active and capable of causing CWD for years – even decades. For this reason, taking precautions that prevent CWD from being moved to new areas is crucial.
The agency annually tests a sample of hunter harvested deer statewide for the disease and tests more intensely where the disease has been found. In Surveillance Areas where CWD has been detected the NCWRC has adopted special regulations to increase testing and limit the risk of moving the disease elsewhere.
Statewide rules have also been implemented to limit the spread of CWD in North Carolina; including a ban on the importation of whole carcass or high risk carcass parts of any cervid (deer, elk, moose, caribou/reindeer) harvested in another state and restrictions on the use of certain deer urine based lures/attractants.
There have not been any reported cases of CWD infection in people. However, the NCWRC recommends hunters follow a list of precautions for handling and deer to limit the potential spread of CWD in the environment and reduce the risks of food-borne illness in general.
Don’t give CWD a ride. CWD can easily spread to new areas whenever infected deer or their parts are transported by people. This includes transporting fawns for rehabilitation, as fawns can be infected with CWD by their mother even before birth. Infected deer don’t show visible signs of illness until the late stages of disease, and can shed infectious CWD prions into the environment for 16+ months before becoming physically ill. Because CWD prions can’t die, infected deer parts can spread CWD long after the animal has died. The best way to avoid giving CWD a ride is to leave fawns and deer parts where you found them. Learn more about deer and deer part transport restrictions in NC.
CWD can be spread by:
Skip the food handouts. Though deer are naturally social, some human activities cause deer to gather more closely and in larger numbers than they would otherwise. Regularly placing food out for wildlife can attract deer to one location, increasing the chance that CWD spreads. Soil and vegetation around feeding stations can be contaminated by infected feces, urine, and saliva; once CWD prions are present, they are practically impossible to remove or destroy, and can infect healthy deer for years. Both hunter and non-hunters alike can help slow the spread of CWD by eliminating the placement of food items that unnaturally congregate deer. Learn more about CWD-related wildlife feeding restrictions.
CWD Testing Frequently Asked Questions for printing. (PDF)
Hunters can submit samples from harvested bucks and does of any age. While older bucks are slightly more likely to test positive for CWD, testing deer from all age and sex classes increases our ability to find CWD if and wherever it is present.
Yes, you may leave the antlers on your deer and still submit it for testing at a testing drop-off station. However, removing the antlers allows more space for other samples and reduces the possibility that holes get poked in the bag. If you do not remove antlers from your deer, you will not receive those antlers back from the NCWRC. They will be discarded.
If you decide to remove the entire skull cap (rather than each individual antler), please take care to place any portions of brain attached to the skull cap in the bag with the deer head.
Test results are expected to take 4-6 weeks from deer harvested in CWD Surveillance Areas and 7-9 weeks from deer elsewhere in the state. Staff are making every effort to get samples to the laboratory as quickly as possible, but there are many steps in the process. If your deer tests positive for CWD, you will be contacted by a NCWRC biologist.
View your test results.
On March 31, 2022, results from the first CWD-positive deer in North Carolina were confirmed from a buck harvested in Yadkin County. The full range and prevalence of CWD in NC are currently unknown, but the NCWRC is increasing surveillance to better understand the affected area.
CWD Surveillance Area Frequently Asked Questions for printing. (PDF)
The Primary (PSA) and Secondary (SSA) Surveillance Areas are approximately 5- and 30-mile radii around the initial detections of CWD, as written in the CWD Response Plan. These radii are based on yearling buck dispersal distances because these one-time movements of young deer away from their birth range are one of the primary drivers of CWD spread in infected deer populations. The 5-mile distance is the approximate average yearling buck dispersal distance in the southeastern US and the 30-mile distance is approximately the maximum dispersal distance. During disease response actions, these Surveillance Areas are centered on CWD-positive deer detections, with the PSA intended to encompass the known infected area and the SSA encompassing the larger area that may be infected based on long-range dispersals. Any future changes to the size and boundary of the Surveillance Areas will be based on locations of additional CWD positive deer.
No! If you see a deer that appears sick, call the NC Wildlife Helpline 866-318-2401 or contact your local District Biologist for advice. This allows a trained biologist to assess the animal’s condition and make a decision based on symptoms and probable cause of the illness. If you harvest a deer that appears sick, you must still report the harvest using your Big Game Harvest Report Card.
Compared to blackpowder and gun seasons, the daily deer harvest rate during archery season is much less. Providing the staffed check stations necessary to accommodate mandatory sampling across the Surveillance Areas requires extensive manpower and many resources, which are both limited in availability. Based on historical harvest rates, the NCWRC believes it can collect a sufficient number of samples during blackpowder and the mandatory days of gun season to track the spread and prevalence of the disease. While sample submission during archery season and parts of gun season is not mandatory, we encourage hunters to voluntarily submit samples from deer taken during this time. Deer harvested outside the mandatory sampling time period can be submitted at testing drop-off stations (freezers) or participating Cervid Health Cooperators.
The CDC recommends hunters strongly consider having deer that are harvested within CWD Surveillance Areas tested prior to consuming the meat. Until test results are returned meat can be frozen as rough un-processed quarters or as fully processed and packaged meat. However, it is very important to label and separate each individual deer in your freezer until test results are received. If your deer tests positive for CWD and you choose to discard the meat, the NCWRC will offer to collect and incinerate the meat for you.
View my test results.
Yes. However, you must first validate your harvest and it is highly recommended that you first register your deer through the Big Game Harvest Reporting System so that you have proof of harvest location while transporting the animal through Surveillance Areas.
Return to CWD main page.