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Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) affects the brain and nervous system of infected cervids (deer, elk and moose) eventually resulting in death.

Current Status:

Following the detection of CWD in both captive and free-ranging deer in Pennsylvania, an executive order (PDF) was issued by the Game Commission to establish Disease Management Areas (DMAs). Within DMAs, rehabilitation of cervids (deer, elk and moose); the use or possession of cervid urine-based attractants in an outdoor setting; the removal of high-risk cervid parts; and the feeding of wild, free-ranging cervids are prohibited. Increased testing continues in these areas to determine the distribution of the disease. Newly confirmed cases alter the boundaries of DMAs as the Game Commission continues to manage the disease and minimize its effect on free ranging cervids.

In Pennsylvania, Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has been detected in these Disease Management Areas (DMAs): DMA 1 on a captive deer farm in Adams County in 2012 (DMA 1 has since been eliminated); DMA 2 in multiple free-ranging deer in Bedford, Blair, Cambria, and Fulton counties since 2012, as well as captive deer farms in Bedford, Franklin, and Fulton counties; DMA 3 in two captive deer farms in Jefferson County and a free-ranging deer in Clearfield County; DMA 4 in a captive deer at a facility in Lancaster County. In addition, CWD has been detected in wild or captive deer and/or elk in many other states and provinces.

Rules and regulations regarding CWD in Pennsylvania are found in the Game Commission executive order (PDF) and Title 58 regulations.

Public Event Schedule 

*Please note schedule is tentative and subject to change.*
Formal presentations will consist of expert speakers followed by a short question and answer session. The open houses are designed as stations to be self-navigated with agency staff on hand to answer questions.

  • Chronic Wasting Disease WEBINAR; recording
    Watch this informational webinar on Chronic Wasting Disease. The Game Commission’s chronic wasting disease (CWD) communication specialist Courtney Colley will tell us about this fatal neurodegenerative disease that affects cervids, including deer and elk. Participants will learn about the challenges CWD presents for wildlife management and how they can help prevent the spread of CWD.  
  • Oct. 25 - 7-8:30 PM; Bedford High School; Bedford, PA; Bedford County; open house (Q&A)
  • Oct. 28 - 2:30 PM; University of Pittsburgh in Bradford in the University Room; Bradford, PA; McKean County; formal presentation during Kinzua Quality Deer Cooperative's Deer Season Kickoff. 

Frequently Asked Questions:

Locations of Cooperating Processors & Taxidermists, High-risk Parts Dumpsters, and Deer Head Collection (PDF).

To learn more about chronic wasting disease, and precautions in place to limit its influence on Pennsylvania's wild deer populations, please explore the following:

For Hunters

You can help the Game Commission monitor and limit the impact of CWD. The threat of CWD is real. Your participation in this testing effort is critical to manage this serious disease. Taking actions today may help protect deer and deer hunting into the future.

FREE testing of deer taken in any DMA: If you harvest a deer in a Disease Management Area (DMA), please deposit the deer’s head, with your completed harvest tag affixed to the deer’s ear, at one of the head collection containers (marked as “H” or “HD” on the Interactive map and printable PDF). You will be notified of the test results.

Help us contain the spread of CWD: Please deposit high-risk parts from your deer in a high-risk parts disposal dumpster, marked with “D” or “HD” on the Interactive map and Printable list (PDF). High-risk parts include the head, lymph nodes, spleen, and spinal column. You may also dispose of any other deer parts not used by the hunter in these dumpsters.

DMAP permits in DMA 2, DMA3 and DMA4:2018-19 DMA DMAP Units map (PDF)
The Game Commission created DMAP (Deer Management Assistance Program) units in DMA 2, DMA 3 and DMA4 to focus hunter effort in areas where CWD-positive deer have been found. Hunters can apply for antlerless deer permits in those DMAP units through the automated license sales system. Although these DMAP permits can be used on public and private lands within the appropriate DMAP unit, hunters must receive permission from private landowners prior to hunting. Although these DMAP permits can be used on public and private lands within the appropriate DMAP unit, hunters must receive permission from private landowners prior to hunting. For more information view the 2018-19 DMA DMAP Units map (PDF)
2018-19 CWD DMA  DMAP units map

Where can I take my deer? Interactive map.  Printable list (PDF).
 

For Taxidermists & Processors

If you are presented with a deer or elk harvested in CWD-infected areas, please contact the nearest Game Commission region office for guidance. Additional information is available for processors and taxidermists.

CWD in Pennsylvania

 

Frequently Asked Questions & Answers

What is Chronic Wasting Disease?
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a contagious, always-fatal disease that infects deer and elk in Pennsylvania. It is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE). Other diseases in the TSE family include Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or Mad Cow Disease in cattle; Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) in humans; and Scrapie in sheep and goats. It was first recognized in deer and elk in Colorado in 1967. The cause of CWD is believed to be an abnormal prion (proteinaceous infectious particle). Prions are concentrated in the brain, nervous system, and lymphoid tissues of infected animals. The disease causes death of brain cells resulting in microscopic holes in the brain tissue.

What animals get CWD?
CWD has been diagnosed in white-tailed deer, mule deer, black-tailed deer, and hybrids thereof, as well as elk, red deer, moose, and reindeer.

Is CWD dangerous to humans?
There is no evidence that CWD is transmissible to humans or traditional livestock. However, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that “To date, there have been no reported cases of CWD infection in people. However, animal studies suggest CWD poses a risk to some types of non-human primates, like monkeys, that eat meat from CWD-infected animals or come in contact with brain or body fluids from infected deer or elk. These studies raise concerns that there may also be a risk to people. Since 1997, the World Health Organization has recommended that it is important to keep the agents of all known prion diseases from entering the human food chain.”

Where has CWD been found in Pennsylvania?
In Pennsylvania, Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has been detected in these Disease Management Areas (DMAs): DMA 1 on a captive deer farm in Adams County during 2012 (DMA 1 has since been eliminated); DMA 2 in multiple free-ranging deer in Bedford, Blair, Cambria, and Fulton counties since 2012, and captive deer farms in Bedford, Franklin, and Fulton counties during 2017; DMA 3 in two captive deer farms in Jefferson County during 2014 and a free-ranging deer in Clearfield County during 2017. DMA 4 in a captive deer at a facility in Lancaster County during 2018.  View a map of positive cases by township (PDF). In addition, CWD has been detected in wild or captive deer and/or elk in many other states and provinces.

How is CWD spread?
CWD is transmitted both directly through animal-to-animal contact and indirectly through food and soil contaminated with bodily secretions including feces, urine, and saliva. Contaminated carcasses or high-risk carcass parts may also spread the disease indirectly through environmental contamination. Prions are very stable in the environment and remain infectious for decades.

Why should I stop feeding deer?        
Because any concentration of deer or elk assists in the spread of diseases, immediately stop supplemental feeding programs. For more information, read Please Don't Feed the Deer (PDF).

What is being done to manage CWD in Pennsylvania?
Several state and federal agencies, including the Game Commission, Pennsylvania departments of Agriculture (PDA), Health (PDH), and Environmental Protection (DEP), and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) collaboratively work on a response plan, which details methods of prevention, surveillance, and response regarding CWD. Activities designed to reduce the risks associated with this disease are ongoing. Surveillance for CWD and other diseases began in Pennsylvania in 1998 and will continue to better understand the prevalence and distribution of the disease.

How can I tell if a deer or elk has CWD?
Animals infected with CWD do not show signs of infection for 12 or more months; many infected animals look completely healthy. Late stage symptoms of CWD-infected animals include an extreme loss of body condition; excessive drinking, urination, salivation, and drooling; and behavioral and neurologic changes such as repetitive walking patterns, droopy ears, a wide-based stance, and listlessness. Some animals lose their fear of humans and predators. There is no known cure. It is important to note that these symptoms are characteristic of diseases other than CWD.

What should I do if I see a deer or elk displaying signs that suggest CWD?
If you see a deer or elk that you believe is sick, do not disturb or attempt to kill or remove the animal. Accurately document the location of the animal and immediately contact the nearest Game Commission region office.

What are high-risk carcass parts?
High-risk carcass parts, where the CWD prion (causative agent) concentrates are: head (including brain, tonsils, eyes, and lymph nodes); spinal cord/backbone (vertebra); spleen; skull plate with attached antlers, if visible brain or spinal cord material is present; cape, if visible brain or spinal cord material is present; upper canine teeth, if root structure or other soft material is present; any object or article containing visible brain or spinal cord material; and brain-tanned hide.

Why are there restrictions on the movement of high-risk parts?
Regulations prohibit the removal or export from any Disease Management Area (DMA) established within the Commonwealth any high-risk parts or materials resulting from cervids harvested, taken, or killed, including by vehicular accident, within any Disease Management Area. Regulations also prohibit the importation of any high-risk parts or materials from cervids harvested, taken, or killed in other areas where CWD has been detected.  Although CWD has been detected in both captive and free ranging deer, the Game Commission's goal continues to be to prevent further introductions of CWD into our state and to prevent spread within the state. The movement of high-risk carcass parts is a potential avenue through which CWD could be spread. Many states, including Pennsylvania, have developed regulations to prohibit the importation of high-risk carcass parts from states and provinces with CWD infected deer.

From where is the importation of high-risk parts prohibited? (Last update 10/15/18)
High-risk parts may not be imported in Pennsylvania from the following specific states and Canadian provinces: Alberta, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Quebec, Saskatchewan, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

What carcass parts are safe to move?
The following cervid parts may be safely transported into and within Pennsylvania: meat with no part of the spinal column or head attached; cleaned hides without the head; skull plates and/or antlers cleaned of all brain tissue; upper canine teeth without soft tissue; or finished taxidermy mounts. These parts may be moved out of Pennsylvania's Disease Management Areas.

What precautions should hunters take?
Hunters should only harvest animals that appear healthy, and take reasonable precautions like wearing gloves while field dressing an animal and washing hands and equipment thoroughly when finished.  Hunters in areas where CWD is known to exist should follow these guidelines to prevent the spread of the disease:

  • Do not shoot, handle or consume an animal that appears sick.
  • Wear rubber or nitrile gloves when field dressing.
  • Bone-out the meat to remove high-risk parts such as brain, spinal cord, spleen, tonsils, and lymph nodes.
  • Avoid cutting into or through the backbone, either lengthwise or across the spine.
  • Minimize the handling of brain and spinal tissues.
  • Thoroughly clean hands and processing tools with soap and water; then sanitize tools in a solution of 50 percent household chlorine bleach and 50 percent water for one hour.
  • Ask your deer processor to process your meat individually or process your own meat.
  • Have your animal processed in the area of the state where it was harvested so high-risk body parts can be properly disposed of. It is illegal to take high-risk parts out of any Pennsylvania Disease Management Area.
  • Do not import high-risk parts from areas where CWD is known to exist.
  • Transport out of any Pennsylvania Disease Management Area, or bring back to Pennsylvania only permitted parts: meat with no part of the spinal column or head attached; cleaned hides without the head; skull plates and/or antlers cleaned of all brain tissue; upper canine teeth without soft tissue; or finished taxidermy mounts. If you plan to hunt in CWD-positive areas, and want to avoid transporting parts that are banned, take a moment to view this video.
  • Don't consume high-risk parts. Normal field-dressing, coupled with boning out a carcass, will remove most, if not all, high-risk parts. Cutting away all fatty tissue will remove remaining lymph nodes.
  • Have your animal tested, and do not consume meat from any animal that tests positive for the disease.

What if I harvest a deer within a Disease Management Area (DMA)?
If you harvest a deer within a DMA, proceed with these options in handling high-risk parts:

  • If your deer was harvested in a DMA, FREE TESTING is available. Deposit the head of your deer into any CWD Collection Container. The harvest tag must be filled out completely, legible, and physically attached to the deer’s ear. The head must be placed in a plastic garbage bag and sealed before being placed in the collection bin. You will be notified of test results. Skulls and antlers will not be returned. 
  • Take your deer to any processor or taxidermist located within the DMA. You may also take your deer to any processor, taxidermist or disposal site that is approved for that DMA. 
  • If you live within the DMA where your deer was harvested, you may take the deer home to process. Double bag the high-risk parts and set them out for a commercial refuse pickup.
  • You may bone out or quarter the deer at the site, leaving the high-risk parts, except the head, in the field. The head must be packed out with the meat but must not leave the DMA from which the animal was harvested. The head should be deposited in a FREE TESTING collection bin, or left in a high-risk parts dumpster, or double bagged and disposed of with commercial refuse within the DMA.

Where can I have my deer tested?

  • If your deer was harvested within a DMA, FREE TESTING is available. Deposit the head of your deer into any CWD Collection Container. The harvest tag must be filled out completely, legible, and physically attached to the deer’s ear. The head must be placed in a plastic garbage bag and sealed before being placed in the collection bin. You will be notified of test results. Skulls and antlers will not be returned.
  • Hunters can submit their harvested deer to the Pennsylvania Animal Diagnostics Laboratory Systems (PDF) for testing.

Is the meat of a CWD positive deer safe to eat?
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that people DO NOT eat meat from animals that test positive for CWD. From the CDC website: “Animal studies suggest CWD poses a risk to some types of non-human primates, like monkeys, that eat meat from CWD-infected animals or come in contact with brain or body fluids from infected deer or elk. These studies raise concerns that there may also be a risk to people. . . If CWD could spread to people, it would most likely be through eating of infected deer and elk…[T]o date, no CWD infections have been reported in people. . . If your animal tests positive for CWD, do not eat meat from that animal.” More information and further recommendations can be found on the Center for Disease Control website.

What if I harvest a deer with evidence of being ear tagged?
Hunters should immediately notify the nearest Game Commission region office if their harvested deer has evidence of being tagged; this could be actual ear tags, torn ears, or holes in the ears. This may indicate an escape from a captive cervid facility.

What if I hunt in Pennsylvania in an area affected by CWD?
Hunters should continue to enjoy deer and elk hunting in Pennsylvania. However, with the discovery of CWD, hunters should become familiar with the restrictions in the regulations and any Executive Order (PDF) for any designated Disease Management Area (DMA) such as prohibitions on feeding and rehabilitation of deer, the use of urine-based lures, and transportation out of any DMA of specific cervid carcass parts. Regulations prohibit the removal or export of any high-risk parts or materials from cervids harvested, taken, or killed, including by vehicular accident, within any Disease Management Area (DMA) established within the Commonwealth. Regulations also prohibit the importation of any high-risk parts or materials from cervids harvested, taken, or killed within areas where CWD has been detected.

What if I'm hunting outside Pennsylvania?
Hunters traveling outside of Pennsylvania should consult State and Province CWD Regulations. Regulations prohibit the importation of any high-risk parts or materials from cervids harvested, taken, or killed within areas where CWD has been detected. The Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance is also a reliable online resource. 


Protocol for processors and taxidermists to help prevent the spread of CWD

Determine if the cervid carcass presented to you is from a CWD-positive state or a disease management area in Pennsylvania.

  1. If the cervid carcass is NOT from a CWD-positive state or disease management area:
    1. Wear latex or rubber gloves when processing the carcass.
    2. Quarter or bone-out meat to remove high-risk parts which include the head (brain, eyes, tonsils, lymph nodes), spinal cord, and spleen.
    3. Avoid cutting through backbone, either lengthwise or across the spine.
    4. Dispose of waste with commercial trash service that goes to a lined landfill. High-risk parts or CWD-positive meat should not be rendered, burned in burn barrels, deposited in bone piles, or spread in areas where it can come in contact with other animals.
    5. After processing, thoroughly wash hands and tools with soap and water. Then sanitize tools in a solution of 50 percent bleach and 50 percent water for one hour.
    6. Do not allow animals to have access to processing area or processing waste.
  2. If the cervid carcass is from a CWD-positive state:
    1. If high-risk parts are present, contact your Game Commission region office for further instructions. High-risk parts include the head (brain, eyes, tonsils, lymph nodes), spinal cord, and spleen.
    2. If no high-risk parts are present proceed according to recommendations in 1.a. to 1.e above.
  3. If the cervid carcass is from a disease management area and you are located outside of the disease management area:
    1. If high-risk parts are present, contact your Game Commission region office for further instructions. High-risk parts include the head (brain, eyes, tonsils, lymph nodes), spinal cord, and spleen.
    2. If no high-risk parts are present, proceed according to recommendations in 1.a. to 1.e above.
  4. If the cervid carcass is from a disease management area and you are located within the disease management area from which the cervid was harvested:
    1. Wear latex or rubber gloves when processing the carcass.
    2. Quarter or bone-out meat to remove high-risk parts which include the head (brain, eyes, tonsils, lymph nodes), spinal cord, and spleen.
    3. Avoid cutting through backbone, either lengthwise or across the spine.
    4. Dispose of waste with commercial trash service that goes to a lined landfill. High-risk parts or CWD-positive meat should not be rendered, burned in burn barrels, deposited in bone piles, or spread in areas where it can come in contact with other animals. High-risk parts may also be properly disposed of in high-risk parts dumpsters provided by the Game Commission. High-risk parts disposal dumpster are marked with “D” or “HD” on the Interactive map.
    5. After processing, thoroughly wash hands and tools with soap and water. Then sanitize tools in a solution of 50 percent bleach and 50 percent water for one hour.
    6. Do not allow animals to have access to processing area or processing waste.