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Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)

CWD is a naturally occurring disease of the brain and nervous system in cervids (species in the deer/elk/moose family) that attacks the brain, producing small lesions that eventually result in death. Mule deer, white-tailed deer, moose, elk, and reindeer appear to be naturally susceptible to CWD.

Where is CWD found? Prior to 2005, the disease had only been found in North America west of IL. In 2005, CWD was documented in captive and free-ranging herds in NY and in free-ranging herds in WV. CWD has NOT been found in New England, including CT. States and Canadian provinces where CWD has been confirmed include: CO, WY, UT, NM, MT, SD, KS, MN, WI, IL, NE, OK, NY, WV, MI, VA, MD, MO, ND, IA, PA, OH, TX, AR, MS, TN, MI, Alberta, Quebec (captive herd), Ontario, and Saskatchewan.

What is CT doing about CWD? Connecticut banned the importation of live cervids across state lines. In 2005, an emergency regulation was passed banning importation of whole carcasses or parts thereof of any deer or elk from wild or captive herds from other states or Canadian Provinces where CWD has been confirmed. The importation ban does not apply to de-boned meat, cleaned skullcaps, hides, or taxidermy mounts. The regulation became permanent in 2007. From 2003-2011, DEEP tested hunter and vehicle-killed deer as part of a nationwide CWD monitoring and surveillance program. Due to a loss of funding, only deer exhibiting symptoms of CWD were tested from 2012-2013. From 2014-2016, CWD testing resumed thanks to a cooperative effort between the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge and DEEP, and with financial assistance from the USFWS National Wildlife Refuge System. Although additional funding sources were lost in 2017, the DEEP continues to collect samples to test for CWD.

How do I know if an animal has CWD? As CWD advances, infected animals display abnormal behavior, such as staggering or standing with poor posture; become emaciated; and appear to be in poor health. The only efficient method for diagnosis is to dispatch the animal and examine brain tissue and lymph nodes for lesions. Anyone observing a deer exhibiting CWD symptoms should notify DEEP at 860-424-3011 or 860-424-3333 (24 hours). If the animal is dispatched, keep the head intact so that a brain sample can be collected for testing.

What precautions should CT hunters take? Concern over CWD should not limit hunter willingness to harvest deer. No evidence exists that CWD affects humans or is present in the state. Even in states where CWD is found, no one has ever contracted CWD. As a precaution, public health officials recommend that humans avoid consuming meat from deer suspected of being infected with CWD. The CWD prion can be found within the meat of deer in the terminal stages of CWD. Higher levels of infected prions accumulate in tissues, such as the brain, spinal cord, spleen, lymph nodes, tonsils, and eyes, and as a precaution, contact with these items should be minimized. Wearing latex gloves and de-boning meat should also minimize potential exposure. According to a new regulation, and for the safety of Connecticut’s deer population, no person shall possess or use for the purposes of taking or attempting to take or attract deer, or for the surveillance or scouting of deer, any product bought or sold that is manufactured or refined that contains or purports to contain deer urine. Products labeled as “synthetic” may still be used. Products with vague descriptions about their contents are not recommended for use. The new regulation safeguards Connecticut’s native deer population against unnecessary risk of contracting CWD.