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What is Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)?

Chronic Wasting Disease is a progressive, neurological, debilitating disease that belongs to a family of diseases known as Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs). It is believed to be caused by an abnormal protein called a prion. CWD has been diagnosed in mule deer, white-tailed deer, and Rocky Mountain elk in captive herds and in the wild. Other cervids (antlered animals) may also be susceptible.

CWD attacks the brains of infected animals, causing them to become emaciated, display abnormal behavior, and lose bodily functions. CWD is a fatal disease. Clinical signs include excessive salivation and grinding of teeth, increased drinking and urination, dramatic loss of weight and body condition, poor hair coat, staggering, and finally death. Behavioral changes, including decreased interaction with other animals, listlessness, lowering of the head, blank facial expression, and repetitive walking in set patterns also may occur.

How is CWD transmitted?

Transmission of CWD occurs by direct contact with body fluids (feces, urine, saliva) or by indirect contact (contaminated environment). The prion is persistent in the environment and premises may remain infective for years. Crowding, such as in deer farms or by artificial feeding, facilitates transmission. There is no evidence that CWD can be transmitted to livestock or humans.

Where is CWD found?

CWD has been found in captive and/or free-ranging cervids in Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta, and South Korea. In the US, the core endemic area is contiguous portions of Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska. The prevalence of CWD in this area is approximately <1% - 15% in mule deer and <1% in elk, although this varies greatly by location. Virginia and West Virginia are the only Southeastern states where CWD has been detected. CWD has not been found in Southwest Colorado.

How is CWD diagnosed?

Currently the only practical method for diagnosing CWD is through analysis of brain stem tissue or lymph nodes from dead animals. There is no practical live-animal test. A tonsilar biopsy may be done on live animals; however, this is difficult and deer have to be held until diagnosis.

How is CWD controlled in a population?

Control is extremely difficult once CWD becomes established in a natural population. This is because of the lack of a practical live-animal test, long incubation periods, and the persistence of the prion in the environment. Also, there is no vaccine or treatment once an animal gets the disease. If detected early in free-ranging populations, i.e. when prevalence is low, then eradication may be an achievable goal. This is not currently considered possible in the core endemic area; Wisconsin, however, has initiated an aggressive eradication program in the portion of the state where CWD has been found.

What steps are ElkQuest® taking?

  • To ensure the highest health status of any elk operation in North America, our preserve has been double-fenced.

  • In addition, since 1997, every elk taken from the estate has been tested CWD-free assuring that you take a home a healthy animal.


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