Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)
About Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)
CWD has not been found in Florida. The 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.
See the graphic for information about CWD.
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.
See the graphic about how CWD is transmitted.
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.
The FWC takes CWD very seriously and is taking an aggressive approach to prevent it from spreading into or throughout Florida. Prevention and early detection through monitoring Florida deer are key.
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 15,000 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 reduce the risk of CWD entering Florida, the Commission approved rule changes at its February 2021 meeting that prohibit importing or possessing whole carcasses or high-risk parts of deer, elk, moose, caribou and all other species of the deer family originating from any place outside of Florida. The new rules go into effect July 1, 2021, and replace FWC Executive Order 19-41.
Under the approved rules, people may import into Florida de-boned meat; finished taxidermy mounts; antlers; hides; and skulls, skull caps and teeth if all soft tissue has been removed. In addition, the rules allow an exception for deer harvested from a property in Georgia or Alabama if such property is bisected by the Florida state line and is under the same ownership. However, the approved rule amendments do NOT include the option allowed under FWC Executive Order 19-41 to obtain a permit and import whole deer or high-risk parts from properties in Georgia or Alabama provided certain requirements are met.
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:
Currently, there is no scientific evidence that CWD can be transmitted to humans under natural conditions. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not recommend consuming meat from animals that test positive for CWD or from any sick animal. The FWC provides information about precautions people should take when pursuing or handling deer that may have been exposed to CWD.
- What is CWD?
- Map of States and Provinces Affected by CWD
- Every Deer Hunter Can Take These Steps to Fight CWD.
- How Hunters Can Help Prevent CWD from Entering Florida
- Precautions for Meat Processors
- Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance
- How CWD is Transmitted
- Precautions for Taxidermists
- What Does a Deer With CWD Look Like?
- USDA - Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services
- Precautions When Hunting in States Where CWD Has Been Detected
- FWC-approved Carcass Disposal Options
- USGS - National Wildlife Health Center