An Official Website of the Commonwealth of Kentucky
What is Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)?CWD is a fatal brain disease caused by abnormal proteins called prions. This disease affects members of the cervid family. Cervids include deer, elk, moose and caribou.
Has it been detected in Kentucky?No. However, its proximity to our borders make it a serious concern.
Where has CWD been found?CWD has been found in 30 other states, including 6 of our 7 border states (excluding Indiana). Tennessee confirmed its first cases of CWD in late 2018 and detected our nearest case in September 2021.
When was CWD first detected?CWD was first detected in a captive mule deer in Colorado in 1967. The disease has also been detected in Canadian provinces, Europe and Asia.
Is there a cure?At this time, there is no cure, vaccine or treatment. The disease is always fatal to the animal. Deer or elk may live for years after they become infected and before they are symptomatic.
How does it spread?Movement of deer is the primary reason for its rapid spread. This is why government agencies and conservation organizations battling CWD favor restrictions on transportation of live deer as well as whole carcasses. An infected deer or elk can transmit the disease whether it is alive or dead. The disease can be spread through direct contact between animals such as shared body fluids or from plants and soil in a contaminated area. Infected deer can transmit the disease even if they are not currently showing symptoms.
Very potent chemicals can denature, or degrade, proteins. Otherwise, incineration at a very high temperature or burying it so no other animals can be exposed, can be successful in eliminating the danger of the disease. Burying limits surface exposure because CWD can live in soil for years.
How do you know if an animal is infected with CWD?
Symptoms of CWD include weight loss, listlessness, lowered head, blank stare, excessive salivation and staggering or circling. However, an animal may be infected for years before symptoms appear. An infected animal may otherwise look healthy. The only way to confirm CWD is to test tissues of an animal after it is dead. There are no reliable tests for live animals.
Does CWD affect people?According to the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "To date, there have been no reported cases of CWD infection in people. However, some animal studies suggest CWD poses a risk to certain 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."
Truths about CWD
What makes CWD different from a virus or bacteria such as blue-tongue disease or hemorrhagic disease?
Other living organisms, such as viruses, cause illnesses like hemorrhagic disease or blue tongue disease. Chronic wasting disease comes from abnormal proteins formed in the body, called prions. Prions are not living organisms and not like your normal type of germs (bacteria, virus, parasite). All animals have proteins in the body, but in the case of a prion, the protein folds abnormally, becomes transmissible and causes holes in the brain, making it a neurological disease. Other wildlife diseases, like hemorrhagic disease (EHD), are not always fatal because animals are able to create antibodies to fight the disease. Those types of diseases usually require vectors such as insects to spread, while CWD transfers through contact. The other big difference is that a virus can be destroyed relatively easily, and with captive animals the USDA has been able to work on a vaccine for viruses in the cervid (deer, elk, caribou, etc.) family. There is no vaccine for CWD because proteins already naturally occur in the body, making prevention impossible. It’s important to know that viruses can be survivable, but there are no cases of survival among CWD.
What is the Department doing to protect deer and elk in Kentucky from CWD?
How were CWD Surveillance Zone perimeters determined?
The department followed its CWD Response plan, which outlined the actions to take after an infected deer was determined to be within 30 miles of the Kentucky border in Tennessee. Using the specific location of the infected deer, a 30-mile buffer was created. The buffer distance is based on seasonal deer movement and behavior. Any county within that buffer was designated as part of the surveillance zone.
How can hunters and the public help?
What can hunters bring in from out of state?While hunters cannot bring whole carcasses back from out of state, they can bring back the following: quarters or other portions of meat with no part of the spine or head attached, boned-out meat, antlers, antlers attached to a clean skull plate, a clean skull, clean teeth, hides and finished taxidermy products. The brain and spinal column must be removed and left behind.
What are some tips for processing?
Why is burying carcasses a disposal option if CWD can infect its environment?
Even in burial pits, the disease stays deep below plant roots, minimizing the amount of prions at the surface, where it could spread much easier.
Can hunters get their deer tested for CWD?The department expanded its existing
Deer Sample Collection Station program to strategic locations to enhance sample collection and statewide data. Calloway, Fulton, Graves, Hickman and Marshall counties all have freezer locations.
At any of the locations, hunters can submit the head from a legally harvested and telechecked deer for CWD testing and aging at no charge. Bags and sample tags are provided.
By participating, hunters will learn the age of the harvested deer and help Kentucky Fish and Wildlife's efforts to monitor the health of the state's deer and elk herds. Results will be available online at
Chronic Wasting Disease Lookup App. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife will notify the hunter if the deer tests positive for CWD.
How do taxidermists get rid of carcass remains?A licensed taxidermist shall dispose of any unused cervid carcass material by either:
Burying the carcass or parts in an opening in the earth at least four (4) feet deep with the carcass or parts covered with two (2) inches of quicklime and at least three (3) feet of earth; with the cervid abdominal cavity, if applicable, opened wide the entire length; at a point which is never covered with the overflow of ponds or streams; and not less than 100 feet from any watercourse, sinkhole, well, spring, public highway, residence, or stable. Or bury depositing the carcass or parts in a contained landfill, as established in KRS Chapter 224.
Why are deer and elk important to all Kentuckians?Kentucky's deer herd numbered only a few thousand a century ago. Thanks to restoration efforts undertaken by the department, Kentucky now has a deer herd close to a million, and a free-ranging elk herd measuring in the thousands.
Wildlife watchers by the thousands enjoy seeing deer and elk on the landscape. More than 300,000 hunters are in Kentucky's outdoors each year. Most of these hunters rely on deer as an important source of protein for their families.
Each year in Kentucky, expenditures by deer hunters and wildlife watchers on travel, supplies and equipment for their pursuits generate economic benefits exceeding $550 million, and support more than 13,000 jobs.