Chronic Wasting Disease FAQs

What if I harvest a deer, elk, moose or other cervid from a CWD positive state or country that I want to have mounted?
The key is to plan for potential taxidermy in the same way you would plan for keeping your meat cold.

  • Prior to hunting, contact your preferred taxidermist who can help you develop a plan for that trophy animal. They may have suggestions or options for you to consider.
  • You can:
    • Contact a taxidermist near your hunting destination. They may be willing to cape animals for a small fee. You can then bring the cape and antlers attached to a clean skull cap home to your taxidermist; or
    • Cape the animal yourself. Then bring the cape and antlers attached to a clean skull cap home to your taxidermist. (There are videos online that offer step-by-step instruction.)
  • For European mounts, all tissue must be removed from the skull including the brain and spinal tissue prior to bringing the head back to North Dakota. Also, a fake skull can be used to create a European mount with just the antlers and the skull cap.
  • Only the following portions of carcass from a CWD positive state can be imported into North Dakota:
    • Quarters or other portions of meat with no part of the spinal column or head attached.
    • Meat that has been boned out.
    • Meat that is cut and wrapped either commercially or privately.
    • Hides with no heads attached.
    • Clean (no meat or tissue attached) skulls or skull plates with antlers attached.
    • Antlers with no meat or tissue attached.
    • Upper canine teeth, also known as “buglers,” “whistlers,” or “ivories.”
    • Finished taxidermy heads.

What if I am hunting in a unit, state, or province not listed in the CWD Proclamation?
North Dakotans hunting in a state or province that has not identified CWD or is hunting in an area within a state or province not listed is asked to follow the guidelines listed above as recommendations to minimize any potential spread of disease.

What Common Sense Precautions Should Hunters Take When Handling Or Processing Deer And Elk?
There is no scientific evidence that CWD can be naturally transmitted to humans. However, as a general precaution, NDGFD and health officials advise that hunters take the following common sense precautions when handling and processing deer or elk in areas known to have CWD:

  1. Avoid sick animals. Do not shoot, handle, or consume any animal that appears sick; contact your local wildlife agency personnel.
  2. Wear rubber/latex gloves when field dressing carcasses.
  3. Minimize handling the brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils, and lymph nodes of any deer, moose, or elk. 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.
  4. Thoroughly wash hands, knives, and other tools used to field dress the animal. Disinfect tools by soaking them in a solution of 50% unscented household bleach and 50% water for an hour. Afterwards, allow them to air dry.
  5. Avoid contact with any animal that appears sick and do not consume.
  6. Bones and unprocessed remains should be disposed through burial, landfill, or incineration.

What Is Chronic Wasting Disease?
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a progressive, fatal disease of the nervous system of white-tailed deer, mule deer, and elk. It belongs to a family of diseases known as Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs), or prion diseases. Although CWD shares certain features with other TSEs, like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or mad cow disease), scrapie in sheep and goats, and Creutzfeldt - Jakob disease (CJD) in humans, it is a distinct disease apparently affecting only deer and elk. It causes damage to portions of the brain; creating holes in the brain cells and causing a sponge-like appearance.

Where Is It Found?
The origin of CWD in unknown and it may never be possible to definitely determine how or when CWD arose. It was first diagnosed in a Colorado elk research facility in 1967 and a few years later in a similar Wyoming research facility. It was later discovered in wild elk and deer near those facilities in Colorado and Wyoming. The known distribution of CWD in wild deer, elk, and moose is Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Saskatchewan and Alberta. CWD also has been found in farmed elk or deer herds in Colorado, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Montana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Saskatchewan, Alberta and South Korea. CWD has also been found in wild moose and reindeer in Norway. CWD was first diagnosed in a mule deer buck taken in the fall of 2009 in southwestern North Dakota. See for more information.

How Common Is It?
CWD has unfortunately become more prevalent in recent years. In Wisconsin, CWD infects about 25-30% percent of the deer in their core management zone. In other areas percentages of infected animals range from 0-30% in deer and wild elk. The number of animals diagnosed with CWD has steadily increased in recent years. It has also been found in numerous new locations previously thought to be free of disease.

What Wildlife Species Are Affected By CWD?
Most members of the cervid family are known to be naturally susceptible to CWD: elk, mule deer and white-tailed deer and moose. Susceptibility of other members of the deer family (Cervidae) and other wildlife species is variable and depends on the nature of and route of exposure.

What Are The Signs Of CWD?
CWD is a slowly progressing disease; signs typically are not seen until the animal is 12-18 months of age and may take as long as 3 or more years. CWD attacks the brains of infected deer and elk, causing the animals to become emaciated, display abnormal behavior, lose bodily functions, become weak, and eventually die. Clinical signs identified include excessive salivation, loss of appetite, progressive weight loss, excessive thirst and urination, listlessness, teeth grinding, lowering of the head, and drooping ears. It should be remembered that many of these signs can be a result of other diseases.

How Is CWD Transmitted?
Prions have been found in bodily secretion such as feces, urine, and saliva and in tissues such as neurologic tissue (brain, spine peripheral nerves), lymphatic tissues, heart, spleen, kidney, lung, soft palate and skeletal muscle Experimental and circumstantial evidence suggest infected cervids transmit the disease laterally (animal-to-animal). In wild populations, decomposition of carcasses, scrapes, rubs, and shared feeding sites play a role in transmission as well as social behavior. CWD and other wildlife diseases seem more likely to occur in areas where deer or elk are crowded or where they congregate at man-made feed and water stations. Artificial feeding of deer and elk compounds the problem. Prions exist in the environment for years to decades. Recent research indicates that prions can be aerosolized and lead to infection also.

What is the progression of the disease?
Post-infection prions can be detected in as early as a few months in lymphatic tissue. The prions progressively move from the lymphatic system into the neurologic system. Prions have been found in lymph nodes of infected wild fawns as young as 5 months old and in the obex(brainstem) at 9 months old. Clinical signs will not start to appear for 10- 18 months post infection but may not show up for years. Although clinical signs may not be outwardly apparent prions are shed through the duration of the infection. Infected animals if not harvested or removed will eventually succumb to the disease.

What Causes CWD?
CWD is caused by a prion, an abnormal form of cellular protein that is most commonly found in the central nervous system and in lymphoid tissue. The prions cause sponge-like lesions in the animal's brain. These abnormal prions tend to accumulate only in certain parts of infected animals, i.e., brain, eyes, spinal cord, lymph nodes, tonsils and spleen. It is this accumulation that leads to eventual cell death which leads to clinical signs. CWD is not caused by a virus, bacteria, or nutritional imbalance.

How Do You Test For CWD?
The only sure and practical way to diagnose CWD is through microscopic examination of the brain stem or lymphatic tissues of a cervid using immunohistochemisrty (IHC). A more rapid test using ELISA on lymph nodes is reliable as a screening method for the disease. A test for live animals, involving the removal of tonsils or rectal lymphatic tissue is currently in experimental and research stages. Testing for CWD is done by federally-approved laboratories; there is no quick test that you or your meat processor can perform to determine if your animal has CWD.

Is There A Treatment For Infected Deer And Elk?
There is currently no effective treatment or vaccine for a cervid that has CWD. An animal displaying clinical signs consistent with CWD should be euthanized. Removing infected animals will help prevent spread of disease or infection.

Is CWD Transmissible To Humans?
Currently there are conflicting experimental studies regarding the potential for CWD to infect people. Researchers have found no naturally occurring link between the disease and any neurological disease that affects humans including the human TSE disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD). Between 1997 and 1998, three cases of sporadic CJD occurred in the U.S. in young adults. These individuals had consumed venison, which led to speculation about possible transmission of CWD from deer or elk to humans. However, review of the clinical records and pathological studies of all three cases by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, did not find a causal link to CWD.

The prions are known to accumulate in certain parts of the infected animal- brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, meat and lymph nodes. Consumption of these parts is not recommended. Furthermore, health officials advise caution. Hunters are encouraged not to consume meat from animals known to be infected. Hunters should take common sense precautions when field dressing and processing deer or elk taken in areas where CWD has been diagnosed.

Is CWD Transmissible To Domestic Livestock?
There is no evidence that CWD can be naturally transmitted to livestock or animals other than deer and elk. Numerous experiments and investigations are currently being conducted.

What Should You Do If You See A Deer Or Elk That Looks Sick, Emaciated Or Lethargic?
Note the location and as much information as possible about the animal and situation. Call the ND Game and Fish Department at 701-328-6300, immediately. Arrangements will be made to investigate the report.

Farmed Deer and Elk - What is The ND Department of Agriculture, State Board Of Animal Health’s role in CWD?
The North Dakota D Board of Animal Health initiated mandatory inventory of all game farms in 1993 and mandatory CWD surveillance, reporting, and testing in 1998 of any farmed elk or deer more than 12 months of age that dies from any cause. In September 2017, after nearly 20 years of mandatory testing with no positive farmed animals identified, the Board of Animal Health OAH voted to make testing voluntary for some producers. Producers who ship animals across state lines must continue to test. Producers who are located within 25 miles of a CWD positive wild deer must continue to test. The North Dakota Game and Fish Department takes the risk of CWD very seriously. The Game and Fish Department will continue to work with the farmed deer and elk producers, as well as the BOAH, to minimize the risk of CWD to both wild cervids and farmed deer and elk. Before any farmed deer or elk can be imported into the state, it must pass a five-year herd health risk assessment, which includes a review of the herd history approved by the BOAH. If approved, animals must meet other requirements before importation, including veterinary inspection for general health and tuberculosis and brucellosis testing.

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