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Chronic Wasting Disease

Chronic Wasting Disease

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a fatal disease found in deer, elk, and moose that poses a serious threat to wild populations. Consequently, it has the potential to impact all the benefits associated with deer and moose in New York: enjoyment of watching healthy animals; hunting traditions and sustainable use of venison; and economic benefits derived from big game hunting.

What You Should Know

White-tailed deer infected with Chronic Wasting Disease
The term "Chronic Wasting Disease" describes the
emaciation that eventually results from infection.
Photo by Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources,
courtesy of CWD Alliance
  • Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is an untreatable disease of the brain and nervous system disease caused by a misfolded protein called a prion that kills deer species.
  • CWD is contagious and has spread widely in North America in deer and elk over the last two decades. It is not currently known to be found in New York.
  • Hunters could bring CWD prions into to New York without realizing it. Bringing hunter-killed deer, elk, moose, or caribou carcasses into New York is illegal and increases the risk of spreading this fatal disease. Using deer urine-based lures may introduce CWD into New York because prions are found in deer tissues, feces, saliva, and urine.
  • Feeding deer and moose is illegal and increases the risk that CWD and other harmful diseases will spread.
  • Because CWD is almost impossible to eliminate once introduced, keeping CWD out of New York is the best strategy.
  • If CWD is detected in New York, disease control actions to reduce deer populations would be conducted through hunting and culling. Hunting practices would change with restrictions on movement and disposal of carcasses plus additional rules for disease management areas.
  • There is currently no evidence that CWD can infect humans, but the Centers for Disease Control recommends no one knowingly consume an infected animal. Precautions are advised when handling, processing, and eating big game meat.

Protect NY Deer and Moose from CWD

There are ways you can help prevent the introduction and spread of this disease.

Hunting Regulations and Best Management Practices

  • Hunters: Debone your harvest if you hunt outside of New York - Don't bring home infectious material!

If you hunt deer, elk, moose, or caribou anywhere outside of New York, you may only legally import the deboned meat, cleaned skull cap, antlers with no flesh adhering, raw or processed cape or hide, cleaned teeth or lower jaw, and finished taxidermy products into New York. Follow the big game importation restrictions to prevent the spread of CWD.

Videos on how to properly and safely process a deer are available on the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance website (leaves DEC website).

  • Avoid natural deer urine products - Don't contaminate your hunting spot!

CWD prions have been found in urine of infected and asymptomatic deer. Urine is collected from captive cervids in catch pens that also contaminate urine with feces and saliva, which can also contain CWD prions. CWD continues to be found in captive cervid facilities in increasing number. There is currently no means to ensure that urine-based lures are free of CWD prions. Synthetic scent products are widely available.

  • Dispose of harvested carcass parts properly.

Disposing of your carcass waste in a landfill is a best practice now and will be a critical practice if CWD is found in New York. View NYCRR Part 189: Chronic Wasting Disease regulations for complete details.

Don't Feed Wild Deer or Moose

Keep New York deer wild and disease free. Feeding artificially concentrates animals in one location for extended periods of time, increasing the likelihood of diseases to spread. Read more about deer and moose feeding restrictions and the negative impact it has on wildlife.

Report Sick or Abnormal-Acting Deer

Contact your nearest DEC regional wildlife office or Environmental Conservation Officer to report a deer that appears sick, unusually thin, or behaves abnormally. Check for signs like:

  • Appearing weak or thin
  • Disorientation
  • Loss of bodily functions
  • Extreme thirst
  • Death

(Note: These signs are not unique to CWD and can occur for other reasons, such as chronic lung abscesses, brain abscesses, or injures from a motor vehicle collision).

Report Violators

Taxidermists, deer processors, and hunters are the frontline of detecting possible importation of CWD infected material. If you discover that carcasses or parts of deer, elk, or moose were illegally brought into New York, call an Environmental Conservation Officer.

Spread the Word

Educate others about this fatal disease that threatens white-tailed deer, elk, and moose nationwide. With everyone working together, we can help prevent its spread. Refer others to DEC's CWD webpage or print and share DEC's booklet NYS Chronic Wasting Disease: Prevention, Surveillance, Response (PDF, 11MB) so they can learn about the disease and how to keep New York State's wild deer free from CWD.

Where CWD Exists

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) was first discovered within New York in captive and wild deer in Oneida County in 2005. A swift, intensive, and comprehensive $1 Million testing and culling operation by DEC and NYS Dept. of Agriculture and Markets was able to stop the outbreak. New York is the only state to have eliminated CWD. CWD is now found in 30 states and four Canadian provinces. For an up-to-date map of CWD-positive states and provinces, visit the CWD Alliance webpage (leaves DEC website).

maps showing the progression of CWD across the united states

How CWD is Spread

  • CWD prions are spread through saliva, urine, and feces of infected animals. A healthy deer, elk, or moose can pick up the disease by direct contact with an infected animal or contaminated environments.
  • CWD prions bind with soil particles and remain infectious in the environment for years, with the ability to infect future generations of deer, elk, or moose. Prions can also be taken up into plant tissues and remain infectious.
  • Movement of infected animals increases the range of the disease. Live animals moved by captive deer owners or harvested game carcasses moved by hunters both pose risks.
  • Scavengers like coyotes and crows that feed on infected carcasses can also spread CWD prions over a greater area in their feces.
  • Use of natural deer urine-based lures could also spread CWD prions.

What DEC is Doing About CWD

Prevention

DEC and NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets are actively pursuing strategies to reasonably minimize the risk of CWD entry and spread in New York. Learn about the NYS Interagency CWD Risk Minimization Plan (PDF).

Surveillance

DEC implements a strategic, risk-based CWD surveillance program to identify the earliest intrusion of CWD into New York, focusing on the animals and locations of greatest risk. Learn about the NYS CWD Surveillance Plan (PDF).

Response

Should CWD be detected in wild or captive deer facilities in New York, response actions will immediately be taken by DEC and NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets. Learn about the NYS Interagency CWD Response Plan (PDF).

CWD Regulations

CWD regulations are designed to reduce the risk of bringing the disease into New York from other parts of the country and minimizing its spread if it is brought here. The main components of the state's CWD regulations (NYCRR Part 189) include:

  • Restriction on Importation of Live Deer, Elk, and Moose
    The regulation prohibits the importation into New York State of any captive deer, elk, or moose except under a permit issued by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets (leaves DEC Website).
  • Restriction on Hunter-killed Big Game Carcass Importation and Possession
    The regulation imposes a restriction on the importation and possession of whole carcasses or intact heads of deer, elk, moose, or caribou from anywhere outside of New York. Only the deboned meat, cleaned skull cap, antlers with no flesh adhering, raw or processed cape or hide, cleaned teeth or lower jaw, and finished taxidermy products of CWD- susceptible animals may be brought into New York.
  • Restriction on the Liberation of Wild or Captive Deer, Elk, and Moose
    The regulation restricts the release of any wild or captive deer, elk, or moose. An exception is made for wild white-tailed deer temporarily held under department license, such as those under the care of a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
  • Restriction on Transportation of Deer, Elk, and Moose Carcasses and Parts through New York
    An exemption allows travelers passing through New York to transport carcasses, provided that no parts are disposed of or remain in New York State.
  • Restriction on Deer and Moose Feeding
    The regulation prohibits feeding of wild deer and wild moose without a specific permit. This prohibition includes the use of substances that serve as an edible attractant, such as liquid, powdered, or crystallized minerals.

Impact to Human Health

There is no current evidence that CWD can infect humans, but precautions are advised when handling, processing, and eating big game meat.

  • Wear rubber gloves when field dressing and processing animals.
  • Minimize the handling of brain and spinal tissue.
  • Sanitize hands and instruments thoroughly after field dressing. Soaking hard surfaces and metal tools for one hour at room temperature in a 50% solution of household bleach and water will inactive CWD prions.
  • Avoid consuming the brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils, intestinal tract, 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 fatty tissue will remove remaining lymph nodes.
  • Bag and dispose of remaining carcass parts in the trash or municipal landfill.

CWD Testing

Hunters who harvest a deer in New York can pay to have their deer tested. To learn more, visit the Cornell University Wildlife health lab page (leaves DEC website). Please note that the CWD test is not considered a food safety test. The result will be positive, non-detect, or not able to be tested. The CDC recommends no one knowingly consume a CWD-positive deer.