Chronic Wasting Disease





Elk with Chronic Wasting Disease, Wyoming.  Photo Credit:  Dr. Elizabeth Williams, University of Wyoming.  C/O CWD Alliance

Elk with Chronic Wasting Disease, Wyoming.
Photo credit: Dr. Elizabeth Williams, University of Wyoming. C/O CWD Alliance.

What is CWD and what is the Department doing about it?

The Department has developed a CWD Response Plan that will serve to guide the Department in strategically managing CWD if the disease were to be found in Kentucky or within close proximity to its borders. To view the response plan click CWD Response Plan.

The Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission (board) has also 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.

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a fatal, neurological disease of white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, caribou and moose. The disease was first recognized as a ‘wasting syndrome’ in mule deer in a research facility in Northern Colorado in 1967 and has since spread to free-ranging and captive populations in 26 U.S. states and three Canadian Provinces. The disease is currently present in six of seven Kentucky-bordering states (Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee). Since 2002, KDFWR has tested more than 30,000 deer and elk for CWD; all results have been negative. CWD has not been found in the State of Kentucky. To see which states have confirmed CWD in deer or elk, check out the US Geological Survey’s CWD Map.

Causative Agent

CWD belongs to a group of diseases called Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSE), which includes scrapie in sheep and goats, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (commonly known as "mad cow” disease) in cattle, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans. It is suspected that the agent responsible for causing TSEs is an abnormal protein called a prion.

Although the exact method of transmission is unknown, evidence suggests that CWD is transmitted through direct animal-to-animal contact and indirectly through environmental contamination from feces, urine, saliva, and infected carcasses. There is evidence that CWD prions can survive in the environment even after infected animals have been removed.

Clinical Signs

Animals can be infected with CWD for months or years before clinical signs are evident. In the terminal stages of infection, deer and elk will show signs of progressive weight loss, excessive salivation and urination, increased water intake, and depression. Other noticeable changes include decreased interactions with other animals, listlessness, lowering of the head, blank facial expression, and repetitive walking in set patterns. In elk, hyper-excitability and nervousness may be observed. There is no known treatment for the disease and the disease is typically fatal.

NOTE: These signs are also symptomatic of other more commonly seen diseases, such as meningeal worm infections (“brain worm”) in elk and epizootic hemorrhagic disease or blue-tongue virus in white-tailed deer and elk.


No obvious lesions can be seen in affected animals. With advanced disease, the brain will have a “spongy” appearance when examined under a microscope.


The only definitive way to diagnose the disease 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 chronic wasting disease.

KAR 2:095 Importation of Cervid Carcasses and Parts

US Summary Carcass Restrictions_currentmaponly.jpg

Click to enlarge​​

If you plan to hunt outside the state of Kentucky for cervids (white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, caribou, or moose) please know the requirements of what you can bring back with you on your return. Hunters can now only bring back the following:

  • Meat – bone in or deboned
  • Antlers
  • Antlers that are attached to a clean skull plate
  • A clean skull
  • Finished taxidermy product
  • The hide

Hunters shall not import a cervid carcass or carcass parts that has any part of the spinal column or head into Kentucky. These requirements are put into place to help slow the movement of CWD into Kentucky.

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