Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)

CWD Snapshot - Updated 6/2015

Due to the detection of a new positive in the northeastern corner of Shenandoah County, it has been decided to expand the Containment Area in 2015 to include all of Frederick, Warren, Clarke, and Shenandoah Counties.

Beginning in 2015, all hunters who harvest deer within the new CA on the first two Saturdays of the general firearms season (November 14th and 21st) must bring their deer to a CWD check station for testing.

Effective July 1, 2015, it will be illegal to possess or use deer scents/lures that contain natural deer urine or other bodily fluids while taking, attempting to take, attracting, or scouting wildlife in Virginia. For more information see the links below.

As of January 2015, Virginia has diagnosed ten CWD-positive white-tailed deer. CWD has been found in 22 states and 2 Canadian provinces.

Check back regularly for updates!

  1. What is Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)?
  2. Where has CWD been found?
  3. Does CWD exist in Virginia?
  4. What causes CWD?
  5. How is CWD spread?
  6. How can you tell if a deer has CWD?
  7. How is CWD diagnosed?
  8. What should I do if I see a deer that shows CWD symptoms?
  9. Can CWD infect livestock or other wildlife?
  10. Is CWD dangerous to humans?
  11. What precautions should I take as a deer hunter?
  12. Is it possible to have the deer I kill this season tested for CWD?
  13. What should I do if I find out a deer or elk I killed in another state had CWD?
  14. What about importing deer carcasses into Virginia from other states
  15. What about taking deer carcasses out of Virginia?
  16. What is being done about CWD in Virginia?
  17. How can I find out more about CWD?

What is Chronic Wasting Disease? (CWD)

CWD is a progressive neurological (brain and nervous system) disease found in North American deer, elk, and moose. CWD belongs to a family of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE's). CWD causes a characteristic spongy degeneration in the brains of infected animals, resulting in emaciation, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions, and ultimately death.

Where has CWD been found?

As of October, 2014, CWD has been found in Alberta, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Saskatchewan, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming (see map).

Does CWD exist in Virginia?

Yes. To date, seven positive cases of CWD have been confirmed in Virginia. The first case of CWD was discovered in a female deer killed by a hunter in November 2009 on private land in Frederick County. The second confirmed case was found during the 2010 hunting season, from a male deer harvested less than two miles away from the first positive. In 2011, a buck and a doe tested positive for CWD. Both deer were again within a mile of the previous positives. During the 2012 hunting season, a fifth case of CWD was diagnosed in a buck killed on private land in Frederick County. Two more deer, a buck and a doe, both killed in Frederick County, tested positive for CWD during the 2013 hunting season. For more information about CWD in West Virginia, see WVDNR's website.

To assess the status of CWD in Virginia, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) initiated a CWD surveillance program in the fall of 2002. Between 2002 and 2012, over 7,600 samples have been collected from throughout the Commonwealth. Monitoring has included testing deer using three different surveillance approaches: (a) active random sampling of hunter-killed and road-killed deer, (b) targeted surveillance of clinical suspect (sick-looking) and high-risk animals, and (c) testing of all deer that die in captivity (a DGIF permit is required to possess any member of the deer family in Virginia, and most are held in zoos). Except for statewide sampling in 2002, 2007, and 2011, active sampling has been confined to an area in Frederick and Shenandoah Counties nearest the CWD cases in West Virginia.

What causes CWD?

The disease agent appears to be abnormally-shaped proteins, called prions, in nervous system and lymph tissues. The prion "infects" the host animal by converting a normal protein to the abnormal form. Unlike bacteria or viruses, prions do not cause an immune response in the infected animal. Prions are resistant to enzymes and chemicals that normally break down proteins.

How is CWD spread?

It is believed that CWD prions are spread both directly (animal-to-animal contact) and indirectly (soil or other surface to animal). Prions are likely shed through the saliva and feces, and urine of deer. Prions can remain infective in the soil for several years.

Areas adjacent to CWD-positive wildlife, areas with concentrations of captive deer and elk, and areas that have received deer and elk from CWD-infected areas may be at higher risk for introduction of the disease. Since a possible mode of CWD transmission is by the importation of infected carcasses, a number of states and provinces (including Virginia) have adopted some form of carcass transportation regulations. Furthermore, deer feeding and rehabilitation of deer may increase the spread of the disease once present. While the risk for CWD transmission through deer urine or other attractants/lures is unknown, hunters are discouraged from using these products.

How can you tell if a deer has CWD?

In early stages of infection, animals do not show any symptoms. In fact, most deer with CWD do not appear sick. The incubation period can range from 1-5 years. In later stages, infected animals begin to display abnormal behavior such as staggering, carrying the head and ears lowered, drooling, not showing fear of humans, and an exaggerated wide posture. Sick animals may have poor hair coats and appear emaciated, or starving - thus the name "wasting disease." Clinical symptoms are typically not seen in deer less than 16 months of age. Some CWD symptoms may also be characteristic of diseases or conditions other than CWD (e.g., bacterial brain abscesses, hemorrhagic disease, or normal spring and fall hair shedding). Please click here for a photo of a deer with CWD.

How is CWD diagnosed?

The only way to make a definitive diagnosis is to examine the brain and/or lymph nodes in a laboratory. There is no practical live-animal test for free-ranging cervids, and there is no vaccine or treatment for CWD.

What should I do if I see a deer that shows CWD symptoms?

Do not attempt to contact, disturb, kill, or remove the animal. You should accurately document the location of the animal and immediately contact the VDGIF at 1-804-367-1000 or the office listed below that is nearest to you. Arrangements will be made to investigate the report. Offices are located at Blacksburg (540) 961-8304, Farmville (434) 392-9645, Fredericksburg (540) 899-4169, Forest (434) 525-7522, Marion (276) 783-4860, Verona (540) 248-9360, and Charles City (804) 829-6580.

Can CWD infect livestock or other wildlife?

There is no evidence that CWD can be naturally transmitted to livestock, pets, or other animals. Susceptibility of exotic deer species (e.g., fallow deer, reindeer, muntjac, etc.) remains unknown.

Is CWD dangerous to humans?

There currently is no evidence that CWD is transmissible to humans. Data from states with both CWD in deer and large populations of deer hunters show no greater likelihood of humans developing prion diseases. Further, testing of macaques (primates commonly used as human surrogates for research) and genetically-engineered mice provide evidence that there is likely a species barrier that prevents humans from getting CWD or a related disease. However, public health officials recommend that human exposure to the CWD agent be avoided as they continue to evaluate the potential risk, if any.

What precautions should I take as a deer hunter?

The VDGIF advises hunters to follow these simple recommendations:

  • Do not shoot, handle, or consume any animal that is abnormal or appears to be sick.
  • Wear latex or rubber gloves when field dressing your deer.
  • Bone out meat from your deer.
  • Do not saw through bone and avoid cutting through the brain or spinal cord (backbone).
  • Minimize handling of brain, spinal tissues, or fluids.
  • Wash hands and instruments thoroughly after field dressing is completed.
  • Avoid consuming brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils, and lymph nodes of deer. Normal field dressing, coupled with boning out a carcass, will remove most, if not all, of these body parts.
  • If you have your deer commercially processed, request that your animal be processed individually, without meat from other animals being added.

Is it possible to have the deer I kill this season tested for CWD?

If you submit a deer for sampling at a designated station in the CWD Containment Area (see map and other information below), there is a very good chance we will test it for CWD. However, it is important to remember that the CWD test is designed for surveillance purposes and is not a food safety test. We recommend all hunters follow the simple precautions outlined above.

Within a few weeks after the sample is taken, results will be posted on the VDGIF CWD Results website. You will be able to access your results using the number you were given when the sample was taken. If you submit a deer that tests positive for CWD, you will be notified by VDGIF as soon as possible following confirmation.

What should I do if I find out a deer or elk I killed in another state had CWD?

Many states have CWD testing programs. If you are notified that a deer or elk you killed in another state tested positive for CWD, and you have brought any part of the carcass back to Virginia, you are required to contact VDGIF within 72 hours. VDGIF may take possession of any imported carcass or carcass parts from a CWD positive animal.

What about importing deer carcasses into Virginia from other states?

Virginia's carcass transportation regulation prohibits the importation or possession of whole deer, elk, or moose carcasses or specified parts of carcasses originating from any area designated by the Department as a carcass-restriction zone in or adjacent to a state or Canadian province in which CWD has been found in free-ranging or captive deer (see table below for a list of carcass restriction zones). However, the following carcass parts are allowed:

  • Boned out meat that is cut and wrapped (either commercially or privately).
  • Quarters or other portions of meat with no part of the spinal column or head attached.
  • Hides and capes with no heads attached.
  • Clean (no meat or tissue attached) skull plates with antlers attached.
  • Clean (no meat or tissue attached) skulls with or without antlers attached.
  • Antlers with no meat or tissue attached.
  • Upper canine teeth, also known as "buglers," "whistlers," or "ivories."
  • Finished taxidermy products.

A legible label shall be affixed to packages or containers holding the allowed carcass parts with the following information: the species of animal, the state or province from where the animal originated, and the name and address of the person who killed or owned the animal.

The following U.S. states, portions of states, and Canadian provinces are designated as CWD carcass-restriction zones.

  • Any enclosure in North America intended to confine deer or elk
  • Alberta (entire province)
  • Colorado (entire state)
  • Illinois (entire state)
  • Iowa (entire state)
  • Kansas (entire state)
  • Maryland (Allegany County and from any enclosure intended to confine deer)
  • Michigan (entire state)
  • Minnesota (entire state)
  • Missouri (entire state)
  • Montana (entire state)
  • Nebraska (entire state)
  • New Mexico (entire state)
  • New York (entire state)
  • North Dakota (entire state)
  • Oklahoma (entire state)
  • Pennsylvania (entire state)
  • Saskatchewan (entire province)
  • South Dakota (entire state)
  • Texas (entire state)
  • Utah (entire state)
  • West Virginia (Hampshire, Hardy, and Morgan Counties and from any enclosure intended to confine deer)
  • Wisconsin (entire state)
  • Wyoming (entire state)

What about taking deer carcasses out of Virginia?

Now that Virginia is considered a CWD positive state, deer hunters must follow carcass importation regulations in other states when they transport a deer carcass out of Virginia (see CWD Alliance website). Restrictions for nearby states are as follows:

  • Kentucky and North Carolina: Carcasses from anywhere in Virginia must be boned-out or quartered so the brain and spinal cord is removed.
  • Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia: whole deer carcasses are allowed except those originating from Virginia's CWD Containment Area, where carcasses must be boned-out or quartered so the brain and spinal cord is removed.
  • Tennessee: whole deer carcasses are allowed except those originating from Frederick County and Shenandoah County, where carcasses must be boned-out or quartered so the brain and spinal cord is removed.

What is being done about CWD in Virginia?

VDGIF has developed a CWD Response Plan (PDF)s that guides response actions when CWD is found in or near Virginia, as well as an annually-updated CWD Surveillance Plan (PDF) that guides surveillance and management actions. VDGIF monitors CWD status in other states, continues to stay up-to-date on novel published CWD findings, continues to closely regulate captive deer in Virginia, and regularly provides accurate and timely information about CWD to deer hunters and the general public.

Due to the detection of CWD in Frederick County in 2009, VDGIF implemented a number of measures to protect Virginia's deer herd, effective April 2010. The following measures were taken to help slow and contain the spread of CWD. All measures outlined below apply to the CWD Containment Area located in Frederick County and the City of Winchester west of I-81 and that portion of Shenandoah County west of I-81 and north of Route 675 (see map, right). Hunting season changes and a year-round ban on deer feeding also apply to surrounding areas (including Clarke, Frederick, Shenandoah, and Warren counties).

  1. All deer killed by hunters within the CWD Containment Area on specified dates must be brought to a designated sampling station for CWD testing:
    • The first three Saturdays of general firearms season
    • Hunters can still check their deer via telephone or Internet but must bring the deer to a designated CWD sampling station on these specified dates
    • We strongly encourage hunters who are successful on days other than those listed above to volunteer the head and neck from their deer for sampling by bringing it to one of our self-service refrigerated drop stations
    • For designated sampling stations and other updates, please check this web page and look for press releases before hunting season.
  2. Whole deer carcasses or deer parts cannot be transported out of the CWD Containment Area, except:
    • Deer parts currently allowed under the carcass importation ban (i.e., quarters or other meat with no spinal material, wrapped boned-out meat; see complete list above)
    • Whole deer carcasses or parts being transported directly to commercial meat processors, taxidermists, or lined landfills within Frederick or Shenandoah
  3. Three hunting season changes will apply to private lands in Clarke, Frederick, Shenandoah, and Warren counties and the City of Winchester including:
    • The daily bag limit shall be two deer per day
    • With the exception of Shenandoah County, Earn-A-Buck is in effect, meaning at least one antlerless deer must be taken on private lands before the second antlered deer of the license year may be taken on private lands
    • Both the early and late muzzleloading seasons on private lands in Shenandoah County will be full season either sex
    • No changes have been made for public lands in any of these counties
  4. Feeding of deer is prohibited year round in Clarke, Frederick, Shenandoah, and Warren counties and the City of Winchester. Elsewhere in Virginia, it is unlawful to distribute food, minerals, carrion or similar substances to feed or attract deer from September 1 through the first Saturday in January. This prohibition does not include the planting of wildlife food plots.
  5. Rehabilitation is prohibited for any deer that originates from within the CWD Containment Area.

How can I find out more about CWD?

Persons wanting more information on CWD are advised to visit the following websites: