Deer Disease Information
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 United States, as well as in Canada, Europe and Asia. It is spreading to new places, and high prevalence in some states is slowing deer population growth. CWD has been detected in wild deer close to Indiana’s borders — in Michigan, Illinois, and 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, and heat. Cooking or burning will not inactivate them. Prions can remain in the environment for many years and continue to infect deer.
CWD-infected deer may appear normal and look healthy, but still may be capable of spreading the disease. About 18 to 24 months after they have been infected, deer will begin to show signs 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 consuming 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, visit cdc.gov/prions/cwd.
For questions related to human health, you may call the Indiana State Department of Health at 317-233-1325 or 1-800-382-9480.
The Indiana Board of Animal Health (BOAH) strictly limits the movement of cervid carcasses and body parts into Indiana. BOAH allows the following:
- De-boned meat or commercially processed meat, which may contain bones. The head, spinal cord and small intestine must be removed (see below)
- 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 a meat processor inspected by the BOAH or USDA who disposes of discarded tissue from the animal at a land fill permitted by the IDEM or through a renderer licensed by BOAH
- Antlers, including those attached to skull caps, if the skull cap is cleaned of all brain and muscle tissue
- Upper canine teeth, also known as “buglers,” “whistlers,” or “ivories”
- Heads, if the are delivered to a taxidermist licensed by the DNR within 72 hours after entry. The taxidermist must dispose of the discarded tissue from the head at a landfill permitted by the IDEM or through renderer licensed by the BOAH
- Finished taxidermist mounts
Indiana DNR has conducted surveillance for CWD in wild deer across the state for more than 15 years without any detection of infection. The DNR will continue its efforts to detect this disease in Indiana in the coming years, but needs your help and support.
If you would like to have your hunter-harvested deer tested for CWD, you can 1) submit your deer’s head to a DNR sampling station located at a Fish & Wildlife area or a State Fish Hatchery at no cost or 2) submit samples directly to Purdue’s Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab (ADDL) for a fee. More information and sampling locations can be found at on.IN.gov/cwd. Information and submission forms for submitting directly to ADDL are available on the ADDL website: purdue.edu/vet/addl.
To learn about CWD and obtain updated details on surveillance in Indiana, visit on.IN.gov/cwd.
What can you do to help?
- Report deer that appear to be sick at on.IN.gov/sickwildlife.
- 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.
- Keep hunting.
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, 2009, 2016) counties, and in a wild white-tailed deer and several wild raccoons from infected cattle farms in Franklin County (2016-2019).
Thanks to 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 bTB 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 deerhealth.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. Report deer with these lesions at on.IN.gov/sickwildlife.
While field-dressing or handling any carcass or other raw meat, you should wear disposable gloves and always wash your hands with soap and water afterward. Wash and disinfect all tools used during processing.
To learn more about bTB, including where to have a carcass tested or how to report a possible case, visit deerhealth.IN.gov.
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 of EHD 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, host genetics, and deer population density. Outbreaks tend to occur cyclically, approximately every 5 years. The last major outbreak of EHD was in 2019 in southern Indiana. To see the number of reported, tested, and lab confirmed EHD cases by county since 2019, visit on.IN.gov/EHD.
If you suspect EHD in deer, please submit a report at on.IN.gov/sickwildlife.