Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)

Elk with visible ribs shows signs of CWD
An elk exhibits signs of Chronic Wasting Disease in Wyoming.

NEWS: WDFW's Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) Management Plan summarizes current distribution, research, and best management practices to manage CWD in wild cervids. The Plan recommends how to prevent introducing CWD into Washington, how to conduct systematic surveillance for early detection if it does show up in the state, and how to respond to initial detections to avoid endemic disease and spread to other locations within and outside the state.

WDFW is conducting a surveillance program for chronic wasting disease (CWD). Visit the CWD surveillance program page for information on getting roadkill salvaged or other deer tested.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a fatal illness of deer, elk, moose, and caribou. The disease is caused by mutated proteins known as prions, which can contaminate the environment and be transmitted between animals through their feces, saliva, urine, and other bodily fluids.

To date, the disease has been detected in a number of U.S. states and Canadian provinces, but has not been detected in Washington. 

Please help the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) monitor the health of our deer, elk, and moose populations by reporting sick animals to your regional WDFW office or use this online reporting form.

CWD basics

WDFW began limited testing for CWD in 1995 and, with additional federal funding provided specifically for CWD testing, conducted intensive surveillance for CWD from 2001-2011. Since that time, CWD testing in Washington has been focused on animals showing clinical signs consistent with the disease.

To date, CWD has not been detected in Washington. However, the disease can be brought to new locations through the movement of infected animals or animal parts such as bone, organs, and bodily fluids. Once present in the environment, the prions can persist for many years and are very difficult to deactivate. CWD has been found in cervids in 27 different states and 4 provinces in North America.

Carcass importation from other states

Click on map to enlarge

If you plan to hunt deer, elk, or moose in the following states or provinces, there are rules (WAC 220-413-030) regulating how you can bring your meat and trophies home:

Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas; Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, Canada.

Extensive information regarding all aspects of CWD can be found at the CWD Alliance website, including a comprehensive FAQ and list of CWD Regulations by State and Province.

To reduce the risk of spreading CWD, If you harvest deer, elk, or moose in these states or provinces only the following items may be imported to Washington:

  • Meat that has been de-boned in the state or province where it was harvested and is imported as boned-out meat.
  • Skulls and antlers, antlers attached to the skull plate, or upper canine teeth (bugler, whistlers, ivories) from which all soft tissue has been removed.
  • Hides or capes without heads attached.
  • Tissue imported for use by a diagnostic or research laboratory.
  • Finished taxidermy mounts.

Violation of this rule is a gross misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of a $5,000 fine or one year in jail (RCW 77.15.290).

Mandatory Reporting of CWD-positive Test Results

If you are notified by another state or provincial fish and wildlife agency that the animal you have harvested has tested positive for chronic wasting disease, you have 24 hours to notify WDFW. Failure to do so is an infraction (RCW 77.15.160).

If you have any questions, please contact WDFW's Wildlife Program at 360-902-2515.

Health and human safety

CWD has not been found in Washington, and there currently is no scientific evidence of CWD being transmitted from animals to humans. Nonetheless, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends against consuming meat from an animal that has tested positive for CWD.

Precautions for handling carcasses

As always, WDFW advises hunters to:

  • Avoid harvesting any animal that appears sick or is behaving strangely.
  • Wear disposable gloves while field dressing game.
  • Thoroughly wash hands and equipment after processing carcasses.

If you would like to take extra precautions:

  • Avoid consuming parts where the CWD prion accumulates including: brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, pancreas, tonsils, and lymph nodes.
  • Avoid cutting through bone, brain or spinal cord.

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