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. 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.
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 in life from 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 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 inform management decisions toward effectively managing the prevalence and spread of disease.
The NCWRC has been testing for CWD since 1999 and has tested well over 40,000 deer. Currently, routine statewide surveillance occurs each year. Samples collected come from a variety of sources including vehicle-kills, reports of sick or dead deer, hunter submissions, and those supplied from cooperating taxidermists and meat processors. Additionally, more intensive surveillance is conducted in surveillance areas where CWD has been detected.
CWD has been detected in the northwestern and southeastern regions 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.
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 and 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 within surveillance areas where the disease has been detected. The NCWRC has adopted special regulations specific to these surveillance areas 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 processing deer to limit the potential spread of CWD in the environment and reduce the risks of food-borne illness in general.
No. Unlike bacteria and parasites that can be killed through the cooking process, CWD prions cannot be cooked hot enough at home to make them un-infectious. Incineration is necessary to render these prions un-infectious, which leaves no meat to consume.
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 find them. Learn more about deer and deer part transport restrictions in NC.
CWD can be spread by moving:
Skip the food handouts. TThough 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 attracts deer to one location, increasing the risk of CWD transmission. 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 Regulations in North Carolina.
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 of all ages and sexes 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 to 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 harvested 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.
CWD has been detected in several counties in North Carolina. Currently very few deer in the northwestern region have tested positive for CWD compared to the total number of deer tested. Testing is being increased substantially in the southeastern region to better understand disease prevalence and distribution in that area.
Yes. Find a taxidermist who is a Cervid Health Cooperator on this map and take them your deer. Be sure to follow carcass movement regulations when transporting your deer. Cervid Health Cooperators will pull a sample for CWD testing and submit it to the NCWRC after caping your deer for mounting. If your taxidermist is not a Cervid Health Cooperator, find one who is and have them cape your deer and pull CWD samples for testing; you can then transport the clean cape to your taxidermist.
CWD Surveillance Area Frequently Asked Questions for printing. (PDF)
Surveillance areas are designated by county. Primary Surveillance Areas (PSA) are counties in which CWD has been detected. Secondary Surveillance Areas (SSA) are counties that are adjacent to or near the locations of CWD-positive deer in the PSA counties.
Not without first contacting the NC Wildlife Commission. 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.
Deer harvest rates are not consistent throughout deer season and peak during gun season in November. Providing staffed check stations to accommodate mandatory sampling across Surveillance Areas requires extensive manpower and resources, which are both limited in availability. The NCWRC uses historical harvest rates to determine which weeks should be mandatory for testing to provide enough deer samples to inform CWD management. Hunters are encouraged to voluntarily submit samples from deer taken outside of the mandatory testing period 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.
Feral swine can only be baited from September 1st to January 1st. Baiting or feeding wildlife outside of these dates is illegal.
Yes. All harvested deer must be reported using your Big Game Harvest Report Card, whether they appear sick, injured, or healthy. Currently there is no process by which tags can be replaced for hunters who have harvested CWD positive deer. However, the NCWRC is aware of this concern and working on future alternatives.
There is currently no evidence that CWD naturally occurs in any species outside of the cervid (deer) family. All native North American cervids including white-tailed deer, elk, mule deer, black-tailed deer, moose, and caribou are susceptible to CWD, as well as some species of exotic deer.
Yes. There are no restrictions on food plots in Surveillance Areas.
In Surveillance Areas it is illegal to place new salt or mineral in existing mineral sites or to establish new mineral sites. There is no requirement for removing existing salt or minerals that were placed before the salt and mineral lick ban was established in the Surveillance Area. While it is not required by rule, the best practice is to dig up and dispose of any contaminated soil that may still be attracting deer to the site.
Return to CWD main page.