What is it?
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is prion disease that attacks the brain of an infected deer, elk, and moose. Signs of the disease include excessive salivation, loss of appetite, progressive weight loss, excessive thirst and urination, listlessness, teeth grinding, holding the head in a lowered position and drooping ears. Many of these signs can also be symptoms of other diseases. CWD is always fatal to the infected animal.
CWD was first discovered in Colorado in 1967 and in Nebraska in 2000 in Kimball County. Since 1997, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission staff have tested nearly 51,000 deer and found 499 that tested positive. CWD is now found in 40 counties across the state (see map below), but no population declines attributable to the disease have yet occurred. More in-depth information on CWD can be found on the CWD Alliance web site.
What you should know
- Currently, there is no strong evidence that CWD poses a risk for humans; however, public health officials recommend that human exposure to the CWD infectious agent be avoided as they continue to evaluate any potential health risk. People should remain cautious in how they handle, process, and consume deer. Hunters and commercial processors should avoid butchering or processing of deer that spreads spinal cord or brain tissue to meat or to the environment. The Center for Disease Control and World Health Organization recommend avoiding consumption of meat from deer and elk that look sick or that test positive for CWD.More information on prevention is available through the CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/prions/cwd/prevention.html
- While the exact method of CWD transmission is unknown, we know CWD is transmitted from animal to animal. The transmission probably is through body fluids like feces, urine or saliva. Animals that are crowded or confined have a greater chance of encountering the body fluids of other animals and, therefore, a higher likelihood of becoming infected if CWD prions are present.
- CWD poses serious problems for wildlife managers, and the implications for free-ranging deer and elk are significant. While, some impacts of CWD on population dynamics of deer and elk are still being researched, studies show that CWD could substantially reduce infected deer or elk populations by lowering adult survival rates and destabilizing long-term population dynamics.
Frequently Asked Questions
Expand the blue boxes below for the answers to CWD-related questions, frequently asked by hunters.
CWD has been detected in 40 counties in Nebraska (see map below). New counties from the CWD surveillance in 2017 are Chase, Dundy, Hayes, Frontier and Franklin counties. Prevalence is the percentage of a population that tests positive for a disease and is relevant to the area sampled (typically Deer Management Unit).
While CWD prevalence rates in Nebraska are relatively low compared to some other states (more than 30 percent in some states), information will be updated as surveillance efforts continue. See map for estimated prevalence rates for select Deer Management Units.
Select deer from Deer Management Units in the northeast part of the state were tested in 2015 and in the southeast in 2016 during the November firearm deer check. In 2017, hunters should expect CWD sample collection from select deer harvested in the following Deer Management Units, during the November firearm deer check: Frenchman, Republican, Platte, Upper Platte, Plains and Pine Ridge Units. Testing continues throughout the year for suspect sick deer and elk.
Clinical signs of CWD alone are not conclusive, and there is currently no practical live animal test. Currently, the only conclusive diagnosis involves an examination of the brain, tonsils or lymph nodes performed after death. Research is being conducted to develop live-animal diagnostic tests for CWD.
- Hunters should not shoot, handle or consume an elk or deer that is acting abnormally or appears to be sick.
- When field-dressing game, wear rubber gloves, minimize the use of a bone saw to cut through the brain or spinal cord (backbone), and do not cut through edible portions of meat with a blade used to cut bone. Bone out the meat. Minimize contact with and do not consume brain or spinal cord tissues, eyes, spleen or lymph nodes.
- Always wash hands thoroughly after dressing and processing game meat.
- Disinfect butchering equipment with 50/50 solution of chlorine bleach and water. CWD prions can remain viable for months or even years in the soil.
- It is recommended that hunters field dress animals at the place of kill and that the head (brain), spinal column and other carcass parts be doubled-bagged and disposed of at a licensed landfill.
A practical CWD video designed for hunters who want to learn more can be found here: CWD Video.
Currently, there is no strong evidence that CWD poses a risk for humans; however, public health officials recommend that human exposure to the CWD infectious agent be avoided as they continue to evaluate any potential health risk.
People should remain cautious in how they handle, process, and consume deer. Hunters and commercial processors should avoid butchering or processing of deer that spreads spinal cord or brain tissue to meat or to the environment.
The Center for Disease Control and World Health Organization recommend avoiding consumption of meat from deer and elk that look sick or that test positive for CWD.
If you remove the skull cap with antlers attached, the saw should be cleaned and disinfected with a 50/50 solution of chlorine bleach and water. This saw should not be used to cut through any edible portions of meat on the carcass.
If you keep the entire skull (for a European mount), you should insure all flesh and soft tissue, including brain matter, is removed. Wear rubber or latex gloves while doing this, and clean the skull by soaking it in a 50/50 solution of chlorine bleach and water.
If you wish to transport the entire skull or anything more than a cleaned skull cap into another state, contact your local state wildlife agency to determine if carcass transportation regulations apply to your area or state.
A number of states have adopted regulations affecting the transportation of hunter-harvested deer and elk. Since the suspected infective agent (prion) is concentrated in the brain, spinal cord and lymph glands, the most common regulation is the prohibition of the importation of whole carcasses harvested from CWD areas.
Generally, states that have adopted carcass transportation regulations do not allow importation of any brain or spinal column tissue, but allow processed/wrapped meat, quarters (with no spinal column or head), hides, clean antlers/skull plates with no meat or tissue attached, finished taxidermy.
Since regulations are continually evolving, it is recommended that you check the CWD regulations in your state before hunting. A summary of state-by-state carcass transportation regulations may be accessed through the clickable map: http://cwd-info.org/.
The Nebraska Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (NVDL) in Lincoln will test deer for CWD. Hunters also can contact their local veterinarian for assistance. Fees for CWD testing are $34 plus an admission fee. Contact the NVDL prior to tissue collection or sample submission.
Visit the webpage
Nebraska Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory
East Campus Loop #151
Lincoln, NE 68503
Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory will also test hunter-harvested deer samples for CWD. Contact the KSVDL for sample submission information. Costs are approximately $24 plus sample kit fees. Contact KSVDL prior to tissue collection or sample submission.
Test results may take up to 6-8 weeks and times will vary depending on the volume of samples submitted. Hunters should keep this in mind if test results are desired before processing deer.
Chronic Wasting Disease Management
The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission disease management efforts are focused on:
- Continuing surveillance for CWD in wild cervids in Nebraska
- Preventing the spread of CWD
- Ongoing communication with hunters, conservation partners and public health officials to keep up-to-date with ongoing efforts
- Continuing research in conjunction with other agencies and states to further knowledge of CWD spread, prevention and management
The map below illustrates the Nebraska counties and Deer Management Units where CWD has been detected.
Download the map PDF