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Deer Disease Information

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Chronic Wasting Disease

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a disease that affects the nervous system of deer, elk, reindeer, and moose. It causes brain lesions and is fatal in these species. There is no vaccine or treatment and no chance for infected animals to recover. CWD has been confirmed in approximately half of the states in the United States, as well as in Canada, Europe and Asia. It is spreading into new places, and high prevalence in some areas is slowing deer population growth. CWD has been detected in wild deer close to Indiana’s borders—in Michigan and Illinois, and in captive deer in Ohio. CWD has not yet been confirmed in Indiana.

The disease is caused by a misfolded protein called a prion. Prions are shed from infected deer through their bodily secretions such as saliva, feces, and urine. CWD can be transmitted when healthy deer contact bodily secretions either directly from infected deer or carcasses, or indirectly from places where infected deer have shed prions into the environment. CWD prions are highly resistant to disinfectants, freezing or heat. Cooking or burning will not inactivate them. Prions remain infectious to deer in the environment for many years and can therefore remain capable of infecting deer for many years.

CWD-infected deer may appear normal and look healthy, but still may be capable of spreading the disease. About 18 months to 24 months after they have been infected, deer will begin to show symptoms such as weight loss, drooping ears and head, tremors, staggering, excessive drooling, and changes in behavior such as confusion or loss of fear of humans.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “there have been no reported cases of CWD infection in humans.” However, in areas where CWD is known to be present, the CDC recommends that hunters strongly consider having deer and elk tested before eating the meat. The CDC also recommends not to consume meat from an animal that tests positive for CWD.

For more information about precautions you can take to decrease your risk of exposure to CWD, see cdc.gov/prions/cwd

For questions related to human health, you may also call the Indiana State Department of Health at 317-233-1325.

The Indiana Board of Animal Health (BOAH) strictly limits the movement of cervid carcasses and body parts into Indiana to the following:

  • Commercially processed meat, which may contain bone.
  • Carcasses or parts of carcasses if no portion of the head, spinal cord or small intestine is attached or otherwise included.
  • Carcasses or parts of carcasses that include the head, spinal cord or small intestine, if they are delivered within 72 hours after entry to one of the following:
    • A meat processor inspected by BOAH for processing.
    • A commercial deer processor registered with the DNR for processing.
    • A taxidermist licensed by the DNR.
  • Antlers, including those attached to skull caps, if the skull cap is cleaned of all brain and muscle tissue.
  • Hides.
  • Upper canine teeth, also known as “buglers,” “whistlers,” or “ivories.”
  • Finished taxidermist mounts.

Indiana DNR has conducted surveillance for CWD in wild deer across the state for more than 10 years without any detection of infection. The DNR has recently increased surveillance in northwest and northeast Indiana due to the detection of positive wild deer in Illinois and Michigan close to Indiana’s borders. DNR will continue its efforts to detect this disease in Indiana in the coming years but needs your help and support.

To find out more information on CWD and obtain updated details on surveillance in Indiana, see deer.dnr.IN.gov

What can you do to help?

  • Report any sick deer you see at the link at deer.dnr.IN.gov
  • Dispose of carcass parts responsibly, using one of these options:
    • Double-bag for regular trash pick-up.
    • Take directly to a municipal landfill.
    • Bury at the kill site deep enough to prevent scavengers from digging it up.
  • Be aware of and comply with carcass transport restrictions, which may vary from state to state.
  • Participate in sampling and surveillance efforts conducted by the DNR and encourage other hunters to do so.
  • If you would like to test deer harvested outside of DNR surveillance sites, you can submit samples to Purdue’s Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab (ADDL) for a fee. More information and submission forms are available on the ADDL website: vet.purdue.edu/addl/tests/fees.php?id=303.
  • Keep hunting.

Bovine Tuberculosis

Indiana DNR and BOAH monitor Indiana’s deer herd for bovine tuberculosis (bTB) due to the detection of the disease in southeast Indiana. Bovine tuberculosis was detected at a captive cervid facility in Franklin County (2009), cattle farms in Dearborn (2011) and Franklin (2008, ’09, ‘16) counties, and in a wild white-tailed deer and several wild raccoons from infected cattle farms in Franklin County (2016-19).

With support from hunters and landowners, more than 5,000 deer have been tested for bTB from within the surveillance zone since 2009. The disease was not detected in any of these samples, suggesting the prevalence of bovine TB in wild deer is very low, if present in wild deer at all. More information about Indiana’s bTB testing in deer is available at deer.dnr.IN.gov

While you are field-dressing a deer, be aware of the presence of white or tan lesions on the internal organs or inner wall of the chest cavity. Lesions may be found on the lungs, inside the rib cage, on the liver, on lymph nodes, or occasionally other internal organs.

While field-dressing or handling any carcass or other raw meat, you should consider wearing disposable gloves and wash hands with soap and water afterward. Wash and disinfect all tools used during processing.

More information about bovine TB, including carcass testing, or to report possible bTB cases during the hunting season, visit:
boah.IN.gov/2398.htm

EHD

Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) is caused by infection with viruses from the genus Orbivirus that are transmitted by biting midges. EHD is not transmissible to humans. Infected deer develop a fever and seek comfort in or around water, and may be found dead around water. Other signs include a blue-tinged tongue, ulcers on the tongue, or an eroded dental pad. The onset of freezing temperatures often brings an end to outbreaks.

Not all deer that contract EHD die as a result. Although there is no treatment for EHD, many infected deer recover and develop immunity. While deer mortality due to EHD may be high in a small area, large-scale or long-term deer population decreases due to EHD have not been observed.

The variability of the disease is affected by many factors, including the number of insect vectors, virus serotype, previous host immunity and host genetics, and deer population density.

If you suspect EHD in deer, please submit a report online at the Report a Dead or Sick Deer link at deer.dnr.IN.gov