CWD - Frequently Asked Questions

FAQ Index


    What is Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)?

    CWD is a fatal brain and nervous system disease found in deer and elk in certain parts of North America. CWD is caused by an abnormally shaped protein called a prion, which can damage brain and nerve tissue. Transmission between animals is likely by animal-to-animal contact and/or contamination of the habitat by a diseased animal.

    What are the symptoms of CWD?

    Infected deer and elk show progressive weight loss with accompanying behavioral changes. In later stages of the disease, infected animals become emaciated (thus "wasting" disease). Other signs include staggering, consuming large amounts of water, excessive urination, and drooling. If you see a deer showing these signs or acting strangely, contact the local Department of Natural Resources office.

    Is CWD transmmissible to humans?

    There is no evidence CWD can be transmitted to humans. Epidemiologists with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found no evidence that prion-related disease in humans occurs more often in hunters and consumers of wild game than in the general population. More than 16 years of monitoring in affected areas of Colorado found no disease in people living there. Ongoing public health surveillance is important to fully assess the potential risk.

    Is it safe to eat venison?

    The prions have never been found in muscle meat, even in infected deer. Officials are not recommending any general restrictions on consumption of deer meat. However, as a precaution, it is recommended that you do not eat deer or elk brains, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils or lymph glands (the tissue where the prions accumulate).

    What is being done in Illinois to monitor wild and captive deer and elk herds for CWD?

    The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is testing thousands of animals from Illinois's wild deer population. The Illinois Department of Agriculture monitors captive deer and elk herds in the state. Also, the Department of Agriculture obtains samples from captive deer and elk herds at slaughter plants.

    What precautionary steps should hunters take when field dressing deer or handling meat?

    Although there is no evidence that CWD is a human health risk, it is best to avoid unnecessary contact with the deer's brain, tonsils, spleen, spinal cord and lymph glands - the parts of a deer in which CWD-causing prions accumulate. Good field-dressing technique is important including the use of disposable rubber gloves to minimize contact with tissue that could harbor the CWD prion. Proper techniques should be used regardless as other known potential hazards such as E.coli can be prevented through good handling practices.

    How is CWD diagnosed?

    Points on deer showing where brain, eyes, tonsils, lymph nodes, spleen are located. CWD is diagnosed through microscopic examination of the brain and lymph node samples from dead deer or elk.

    How should I dispose of the bones and offal from my deer?

    Bones and offal can be disposed through rendering, burial, incineration or landfill.

    What precautions should taxidermist take when handling the head?

    Common-sense precautions should be applied to all taxidermy work. Always minimize the handling of the brain, tonsils, and other organs in the head. Wear disposable gloves when handling these items. Tools used in taxidermy work should be cleaned and sanitized after use