Chronic Wasting Disease


What is Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)?

CWD is a fatal neurologic disease that affects dee​r, elk and other species in the deer family​​. The disease was first recognized as a "wasting syndrome" in mule d​​​​eer in a research facility in Northern Colorado in 1967 and has since spread to free-ranging and captive populations in 30 U.S. states and four Canadian Provinces.​​

What You Should Know

  • On 12/07/2023, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife announced that a positive case of CWD was detected in Kentucky. The confirmed case was found in a 2.5-year-old male white-tailed deer collected in Ballard County.
  • Kentucky Fish and Wildlife has a CWD Response Plan that calls for the implementation of specific measures following a positive CWD detection in Kentucky. In response to a new detection within KY, this response plan was enacted on 12/06/2023 and aims to contain, reduce, and eliminate the spread of CWD in Kentucky. Previously, KDFWR’s response plan was enacted in September of 2021 in response to a detection within 10 miles from our border.
  • CWD is an untreatable disease of the brain and nervous systems caused by a protein called a prion. It kills white-tailed deer, elk and other members of the deer family.
  • CWD is highly contagious and has spread widely across deer and elk populations in North America over the last two decades.
  • Currently, no evidence suggests that CWD can infect humans. Routine safety precautions should be followed when handling, processing, and consuming meat from harvested game. Hunters should not harvest or handle any animals that appear sick or unhealthy.
  • CWD is difficult to eliminate once introduced, so swiftly managing the spread of confirmed CWD cases and keeping CWD out of Kentucky is the best strategy.

​​​​​​​​​​​What is Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Doing About CWD?

Healthy Deer.

Photo by: Joe Lacefield

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife is taking action to protect the state's deer and elk herds after a deer tested positive for chronic wasting disease in Ballard County.

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife's CWD Response​ Plan calls for the implementation of specific measures following a positive CWD detection in Kentucky. This response plan was enacted on Wednesday, 12/06/2023, after Kentucky Fish and Wildlife announced confirmation of CWD in a 2.5-year-old male white-tailed deer collected in Ballard County. Multiple tests confirmed the presence of CWD in the deer.​

​​Protect KY Deer and Elk From CWD​

Kentuckians can help prevent the spread of CWD in the state by reporting sick or abnormal-behaving deer. Reports can be made by the following:

CALL Kentucky Fish and Wildlife at 1-800-858-1549 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (Eastern) on weekdays.
​​​​​ ​​​CONTACT your area’s regional biologist.
​​​​​ SUBMIT observations online via our Sick or Dead Deer Reporting Application.​


Prevention, Surveillance, and Response

Since 2002, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife has tested more than 39,000 deer and elk for CWD. Deer samples have come from every one of Kentucky's 120 counties. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s CWD Response Plan serves as a guide to strategically prevent, monitor, and respond to CWD cases in Kentucky.​

The Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission (board) has adopted the authoritative Best Management Practices for addressing CWD. This report was produced by a panel of deer, elk and wildlife disease experts from the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA), of which the Department is an active member agency.

For the latest information on CWD in Kentucky, please continue to follow our CWD updates and follow the department’s social media channels.

Up-to-date news regarding CWD across the US and Canada can be found on the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance website.​


Surveillance Zone (SZ) Calloway
Fulton 110
Graves 669
Hickman 137
Marshall 327
SZ Subtotal​ 1,​715 1
1,714 0
Surveillance Zone Adjacent (SZ Adj) Ballard
Carlisle 99
McCracken 181
SZ Adj Subtotal 396 1 394
Remaining Kentucky Counties (RKC) RKC Subtotal 3,301
*Testing data from March 1, 2023 - February 28, 2024 ​**Includes deer and elk samples


Hunting Deer, Elk, Moose or Caribou in Other States?​

If you plan to hunt outside the state of Kentucky for cervids (white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, caribou or moose) please know that state law prohibits bringing whole carcasses of a deer, elk, moose and caribou into Kentucky from other states. The brain and spinal column must be removed. Hunters can only bring back the following:

  1. Deboned meat
  2. Antlers
  3. Antlers that are attached to a skull cap having no meat matter or tissue attached.
  4. A skull having no meat matter or tissue attached.
  5. Teeth have no meat matter or tissue attached.
  6. Finished taxidermy products.
  7. Hide

Taxidermists and processors who receive whole carcasses of white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, caribou, or moose from out of state should call 1-800-25-ALERT (1-800-252-5378) to contact their local conservation officer. For further information please review KAR 2:095 Importation of Cervid Carcasses and Parts.

Related Videos

Please Note: These videos were produced and published prior to Dec. 6, 2023, when the first case of CWD was detected in Kentucky. The videos still contain important information for hunters to help reduce the spread of the disease.


How to Cape a Deer​​​​​

Disease Information

What Are the Symptoms of CWD?

Deer and elk can be infected with CWD for months or years before clinical signs appear. If deer and elk survive to reach the terminal stages of infection, they will show signs of progressive weight loss, excessive salivation and urination, increased water intake and depression. Other noticed changes include decreased interactions with other animals, listlessness, lowering of the head, blank facial expression, and repetitive walking in set patterns. The brains of animals with advanced stages of CWD may have a spongy appearance to their brain when examined through a microscope. This is the result of the disease agent causing holes in the brain.

How is CWD Diagnosed?

The only definitive way to diagnose CWD is by examination of a portion of the brain stem (the obex) and lymph node tissue (the retropharyngeal lymph node). There is currently no practical live-animal test for CWD.

How is CWD Spread?

  • CWD is transmitted through direct animal-to-animal contact and indirectly through environmental contamination from feces, urine, saliva, and infected carcasses.
  • CWD prions can survive in the environment, binding with the soil or being taken up by plant tissues and remaining infectious. This means that CWD can infect future generations of deer and elk in Kentucky.
  • Scavenger animals (such as crows and coyotes) that feed on CWD-infected deer and elk carcasses can spread CWD prions through their own feces.
  • Movement of CWD-infected animals can increase the range of the disease over a greater area.
  • Live animals moved by owners of captive deer or harvested deer or elk carcasses moved by hunters pose risks for spreading CWD.

Does CWD Affect People or Other Animals?

CWD is an always fatal disease that infects and white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, caribou and moose.

No evidence suggests that CWD can infect humans. However, the CDC recommends that people should not consume meat from an animal that has tested positive for CWD.

Hunters should follow routine safety precautions when handling, processing, and consuming meat from harvested game:

  • Do not harvest, handle, or consume any animal found sick or dead.
  • Wear disposable gloves when field dressing, processing, or handling harvested game.
  • Avoid or minimize handling of the brain and spinal tissue.
  • Don’t split the backbone.
  • When field dressing and processing an animal, bone-out all meat and avoid severing bones.
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds after handling harvested game.
  • Cook meat from harvested game to an internal temperature of 165°F or higher to kill any present viruses, bacteria, or parasites.
  • Do not eat raw or undercooked meat from harvested game.
  • Do not feed dogs raw or undercooked meat from harvested game or allow them to scavenge on carcasses.
  • Clean and disinfect all tools, materials, and surfaces that come into contact with harvested game.​

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