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.
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.
Animals become infected when they consume prions in feces, urine, or saliva from an infected animal. Animals may also become infected by ingesting prions present in soil contaminated with the feces or urine of an infected animal. 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 nearly 10,000 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.
Regulations for transporting hunter-harvested deer
To guard against importing CWD from other states, Florida regulates the transportation of hunter-harvested deer, elk and moose from CWD-infected states.
It is illegal to bring into Florida the carcass of any cervid (deer, elk or moose) from 25 states and two Canadian provinces where CWD has been detected. At this time, CWD has been detected in 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, Wyoming, and the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Quebec, and Saskatchewan.
Hunters can bring back de-boned meat from any CWD-affected state, as well as finished taxidermy mounts, hides, skulls, antlers and teeth as long as all soft tissue has been removed. Hunters can also bring back whole, bone-in carcasses and parts harvested in states without CWD.
It is illegal to bring live cervids into Florida, from any state. This rule was put into place in 2013 to further protect Florida’s wild and captive deer herds.
Report any illegal cervid importation to 1-888-404-FWCC.
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.
- USDA - Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services
- Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance
- USGS - National Wildlife Health Center
- Map of states and provinces affected by CWD
- How hunters can help prevent CWD from entering Florida
- Regulations for transporting hunter-harvested deer from CWD-affected states
- Precautions when hunting in states where CWD has been detected
- Deer carcass disposal tips