chronic wasting disease deer

Chronic Wasting Disease: Understanding the Threat to Deer and Elk Populations

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a contagious, prion-based disease affecting deer, elk, and other members of the Cervidae family. It is similar to other prion diseases like Mad Cow Disease (BSE) in cattle and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) in humans, but thankfully, there is no evidence that CWD can transmit to humans. However, it poses a significant threat to the health of deer and elk populations, causing progressive neurological deterioration and ultimately death.

Recent Outbreak in British Columbia:

CWD has been steadily increasing its range in North America, and a recent outbreak in British Columbia has brought renewed attention to this serious disease. The first case in the province was detected in a wild deer in 2015, and since then, the number of positive cases has grown significantly. This outbreak highlights the need for increased awareness, surveillance, and management strategies to control the spread of CWD.

Understanding the Disease:

CWD is caused by prions, infectious proteins that are resistant to common methods of disinfection. Once an animal is infected, there is no cure, and the disease progresses slowly over months or even years. Infected animals may show various symptoms, including:

  • Weight loss
  • Excessive drooling
  • Listlessness
  • Difficulty walking
  • Abnormal behavior

However, in the early stages of infection, animals may not exhibit any visible signs, making detection challenging.

Impact on Deer and Elk Populations:

CWD can have a devastating impact on deer and elk populations. Infected animals become emaciated and weak, making them more susceptible to predators and other diseases. Additionally, as the disease progresses, their reproductive capacity declines. This can lead to population declines and even local extirpation of herds.

Management and Control Strategies:

There is no single solution to controlling the spread of CWD. However, various strategies can be implemented, including:

  • Surveillance: Regularly testing deer and elk for CWD is crucial to monitor the disease’s prevalence and distribution.
  • Culling: In some cases, culling infected animals may be necessary to slow the spread of the disease.
  • Movement restrictions: Limiting the movement of deer and elk can help prevent the introduction of CWD into new areas.
  • Public education: Raising awareness about CWD among hunters and the public is essential for promoting responsible behavior and reporting suspicious cases.

What You Can Do:

If you live in an area where CWD is present, you can help by:

  • Learning about the disease: Familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of CWD and how it can be transmitted.
  • Reporting sick animals: If you see a deer or elk exhibiting signs of CWD, report it to your local wildlife agency immediately.
  • Following hunting regulations: Comply with all hunting regulations and restrictions related to CWD testing and carcass disposal.
  • Educating others: Share information about CWD with your friends, family, and fellow hunters.


Chronic Wasting Disease is a serious threat to deer and elk populations, and its recent outbreak in British Columbia underscores the need for vigilance and proactive management. By understanding the disease, its impact, and the available control strategies, we can all play a role in protecting these iconic animals and ensuring the health of our wildlife populations.

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