Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has not been found in Florida. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is working with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, hunters, captive cervid owners, landowners, and the public to help keep Florida CWD free.
If you see a sick or abnormally thin deer or deer dead of unknown causes, please report its location to the CWD hotline, (866) CWD-WATCH (293-9282).
General Information About CWD
CWD is a progressive, neurological, debilitating disease that belongs to a family of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), which includes bovine encephalopathy (BSE, also called mad cow disease). Like BSE, CWD is believed to be caused by an abnormal protein called a prion. CWD has been found in mule deer, white-tailed deer, black-tailed deer, sika deer, North American elk, and moose.
CWD is a fatal disease.
Clinical signs appear 1.5 to 3 years after exposure and include excessive salivation and grinding of teeth, increased drinking and urination, dramatic loss of weight and body condition, poor hair coat, and head tremors. Infected animals develop odd behaviors including decreased interaction with other animals, listlessness, lowering of the head, blank facial expression, walking in circles, staggering, and standing with a wide stance. Prior to the onset of clinical signs, deer infected with CWD can appear normal and healthy.
CWD can be transmitted through direct animal-to animal-contact as well as through contact with the saliva, urine, feces, blood and carcass parts of an infected animal. It can even spread through soil that has been contaminated with infected carcasses or any of the above fluids.
Unlike most TSEs, the prions that cause CWD persist in the environment and may remain infective for years. Crowded conditions on deer farms as well as winter feeding or baiting deer in the wild facilitates transmission. There is no evidence that CWD can be transmitted to livestock or humans.
CWD has been found in captive and/or free-ranging cervids in 26 states (Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming), the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Quebec, and Saskatchewan, and Finland, Norway, Sweden, and South Korea. In the U.S., the core endemic area includes contiguous portions of Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska. Even in this core endemic area, the prevalence varies greatly. In some areas of Wyoming, CWD has been found in up to 40% of free-ranging animals, while in others less than 1% are affected. Mississippi, Virginia and West Virginia are the only Southeastern states where CWD has been detected.
The only practical method for diagnosing CWD is by testing brain stem tissue or lymph nodes from dead animals. There is no practical live-animal test.
Control is extremely difficult once CWD becomes established in a natural population. There is no vaccine or treatment for CWD. Because prions persist in the environment, the best chance for eradication is to detect CWD when it moves into a new area and act quickly to prevent more animals from being infected.
FWC educates hunters, landowners and the public about CWD and asks that anyone who sees a sick, abnormally thin deer or finds a deer dead from unknown causes call the toll-free CWD hotline, 866-CWD-WATCH (866-293-9282) to report the location of the animal. FWC asks hunters who harvest a sick or extremely skinny deer to avoid handling it and call the CWD hotline. An FWC biologist can then collect the deer and take it to a lab for necropsy. For early disease detection, FWC collects and tests tissue samples from randomly-selected hunter-killed deer that appear healthy. Since 2002, FWC has tested over 14,000 hunter-killed, road-killed, and sick or diseased deer for CWD.
Learn more about the FWC's CWD monitoring program and how hunters can support this effort by donating their deer heads for testing.
To guard against importing CWD from other states, the FWC has issued Executive Order 19-41, which prohibits importing or possessing carcasses and parts thereof from deer, elk, moose, caribou and all other members of the deer family originating from any place outside of Florida except for:
- boned-out meat or products thereof;
- clean hides with no tissue or head attached;
- antlers, antlers with a clean skull plate with no tissue attached or clean skulls with no tissue attached;
- finished taxidermy products; and
- clean teeth with no tissue attached.
Note: Executive Order 19-41 took effect Nov. 1, 2019.
Exceptions Allowed by Executive Order 19-41
The executive order allows exceptions for importing into Florida legally harvested white-tailed deer originating from Georgia or Alabama provided all the following requirements are met:
- An FWC Georgia/Alabama Carcass Importation Permit is obtained before importing a deer carcass into Florida;
- The carcass importation is reported using the FWC’s online Georgia/Alabama Carcass Importation Reporting Form within 24 hours of the carcass being imported into Florida.
- Any deer remains are disposed of using FWC-approved carcass disposal options.
In addition, white-tailed deer legally harvested from Georgia or Alabama properties that are bisected by the Florida state line and under the same ownership are exempt from the importation permit, reporting and disposal requirements.
NOTE: If CWD is detected in Georgia or Alabama, the exemption allowing deer carcasses to be imported would be rescinded for that state.
How to Get a Permit and Report Importation
The FWC’s Georgia/Alabama Carcass Importation Permit is available for free and must be obtained before hunting in Georgia or Alabama using the following steps:
- Visit the FWC’s PermitMe! webpage.
- Log in to your PermitMe! account if you're a returning user or if you're a first-time user, create an account at PermitMe!
- Follow the instructions to apply for, view and print a Georgia/Alabama Deer Carcass Importation Permit.
- Have the permit in your possession if importing a deer carcass into Florida from Georgia or Alabama.
- Report deer carcass importation at the PermitMe! webpage within 24 hours of the carcass being imported into Florida.
Public health and wildlife officials advise hunters to take the following precautions when pursuing or handling deer that may have been exposed to CWD:
- Do not shoot, handle or consume any animal that is acting abnormally or appears to be sick. If you see or harvest an animal that appears sick, call the FWC toll-free CWD hotline, 866-CWD-WATCH (293-9282).
- Wear latex or rubber gloves when field dressing your deer.
- Bone out the meat from your animal. Don't saw through bone and avoid cutting through the brain or spinal cord (backbone).
- Minimize the handling of brain and spinal tissues.
- Wash hands and instruments thoroughly after field dressing is completed.
- Avoid consuming brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils and lymph nodes of harvested animals. (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.)
- Avoid consuming the meat from any animal that tests positive for CWD.
- If you have your deer commercially processed, request that your animal be processed individually, with no meat from other animals added to meat from your animal.
Learn more by reviewing the following graphics:
- USDA - Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services
- Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance
- USGS - National Wildlife Health Center
- Map of states and provinces affected by CWD
- Precautions when hunting in states where CWD has been detected
- FWC-approved carcass disposal options
- What Does a Deer With CWD Look Like?
- Every Deer Hunter Can Take These Steps to Fight CWD.