Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)

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An elk exhibits signs of Chronic Wasting Disease in Wyoming.

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 the nearest WDFW office 

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 provinces in North America.

Carcass importation from other states

Map of chronic wasting disease in US
Distribution of Chronic Wasting Disease in North America as of April 2019.Courtesy USGS

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
  • 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
  • Alberta, Canada
  • Saskatchewan, 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.

Frequently asked questions

Has CWD been found in Washington wildlife?

No. WDFW has tested thousands of animals since 1995 with no confirmed cases of CWD in Washington deer, moose or elk. For a full FAQ on CWD, visit the CWD Alliance.

Is WDFW monitoring wildlife for CWD?

Yes. In 1995 WDFW began targeted CWD surveillance, meaning that samples were collected from deer and elk exhibiting clinical signs similar to those associated with CWD. With the availability of federal funding between 2003-2011, CWD testing efforts were expanded to sample harvested deer and elk at hunter check stations and from taxidermists, meat-processors, and roadkill. With the end of federal funding in 2012, extensive surveillance no longer takes place, although WDFW continues to conduct targeted surveillance of animals demonstrating clinical signs of CWD, and to opportunistically collect samples from hunter-harvested animals for future testing when funding becomes available

What is being done to minimize the risk of CWD in Washington?

To address the disease risks associated with deer farming, Washington took action to curtail this practice in 1993, including banning the importation of live deer, elk, and other native cervid species into the state. This rule, WAC 220-450-030, was an important step in reducing the risk of introducing CWD or other diseases into wild animal populations in this state.

To minimize the risk of introducing CWD from other states and provinces, out-of-state cervid carcass importation restrictions (WAC 220-413-030) were put into place over a decade ago. Included in this rule is a requirement that hunters notify WDFW within 24 hours if they are informed by another state that their animal tested positive for CWD.

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