Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer

By Stephen Janak

Information compiled from:
Expert: Chronic wasting disease containment demands vigilance, common sense
Chronic Wasting Disease 101 – Drs. Walter Cook & Donald S. Davis
EWF-023: Chronic Wasting Disease

Map of North America showing concentration of infected populations in northern Colorado, Southern Wyoming, Western Nebraska, Eastern Utah, South Central New Mexico, and Far West Texas.



What is it?

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a disease of the nervous system that affects white-tailed deer, mule deer, red deer, elk, and moose.  First discovered in 1967 in Colorado, in far West Texas mule deer in 2012, and in a captive whitetail herd in Medina County in June/July 2015.  It is similar to Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (mad cow disease) in cattle, or Scrapie in sheep and goats.  However, it CANNOT be transmitted to any livestock or to humans.

How does it work?

CWD is spread by contact with bodily fluids of an infected animal.  There is some research that suggests it may also be transmitted through antler rubs on plants.  The infecting agent can be stable in the environment for quite some time, so dried saliva or blood may still be infectious.

CWD interrupts and degrades nerve cells and ultimately leads to death.

As a hunter, what do I need to know?

Experts advise hunters to harvest only healthy looking animals. Sickly looking animals should be tested for diseases and not eaten. The infecting agents accumulate densely in the brain, eyes, tonsils, spine, spleen, and lymph nodes of sick animals. Carefully avoid touching or consuming these parts. In areas affected by CWD (Medina County, West Texas), bone out carcasses in a way that removes all nervous system tissue. Be sure not to cut meat with saws or knives that were used to cut bone. To prevent exposing other susceptible animals to infected material, bury the carcass at least 6 feet deep or dispose of it in an approved landfill.

What if I see an animal that might have CWD?

1. Do not attempt to touch, kill, or move the animal in any way.

2. Carefully document the animal’s location and any other pertinent details.

3. Immediately contact the nearest Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) Game Warden or Wildlife Biologist or the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC).  In Colorado County, contact Mark Lange (TPWD Wildlife Biologist) at 979-732-3458.

4. If directed to send a sample for testing by TPWD or TAHC, contact your local veterinarian for advice and professional assistance in collecting the sample.

5. Follow any instructions given by those agencies for follow-up.

6. Continue to be vigilant for future cases of potentially infected animals.




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