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Chronic Wasting Disease - What you should know

Chronic Wasting Disease 

What You Should Know

  • CWD is not known to be transmissible to humans or domestic livestock.

  • CWD is a fatal disease of white-tailed deer, mule deer, and elk.

  • CWD is not known to exist in Alabama or any other southeastern state.

  • CWD will not likely be found in the Southeast unless it is transported here.

  • It is illegal to import any deer or other cervid into Alabama.

The range expansion of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in wild deer has led to unprecedented attention and concern during the past few years.  Unfortunately, many rumors and much misinformation about CWD have been spread to the public. This page provides up-to-date facts on what is known about CWD and what is being done in Alabama to help prevent the disease from reaching our state.

What is CWD?

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal disease affecting the central nervous system of deer and elk. This disease belongs to a family of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE's). The disease attacks the brains of infected deer and elk and causes animals to become emaciated (skinny), display abnormal behavior, lose bodily functions, and die. The disease has been found in either captive or wild deer in twelve western and midwestern states and two Canadian provinces.

Mule deer, white-tailed deer, and Rocky Mountain elk are the three species of the deer family known to be naturally susceptible to CWD.  One case of CWD has been detected in a wild moose taken by a hunter in Colorado.   Susceptibility of other species of deer to CWD is not known. No cases linking any disease in livestock or humans to CWD have been discovered. At this time it is thought that transmission to domestic animals or humans is unlikely.

Where has CWD been found?

Chronic wasting disease was first recognized in the 1960's as a syndrome of captive mule deer held in research facilities in Ft. Collins, Colorado. CWD was originally believed to be a nutritional disorder and was not recognized as a TSE until 1978. CWD was soon identified in captive deer and elk from other wildlife research facilities in Colorado and Wyoming, as well as in at least two zoological collections.

CWD since has been diagnosed in captive elk and/or deer herds in Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Wyoming and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. CWD was first found in wild deer and elk in northeastern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming. The disease since has been found in wild deer and/or elk in Nebraska, New Mexico, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Utah, Illinois, New York, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Many of the wild deer were discovered in areas surrounding captive deer facilities with infected animals. No cases of CWD have been found in Alabama or any other southeastern state.

What is the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries doing to keep CWD from reaching our state?

The Division is currently taking several measures to help prevent CWD from reaching our state. The State has had a regulation banning the importation of all cervids (members of the deer family) into Alabama since 1973. Recently the fines for violating this regulation were significantly increased. Investigations have discovered animal movements among many of the 20 privately owned elk herds (outside of Alabama) where CWD has been diagnosed. The movement of infected animals very likely was the reason for the disease's spread. Halting the movement of live captive deer and elk into and within Alabama is a major step in preventing the disease from reaching our state.

The Division also started an active monitoring program for CWD during the 2001-02 hunting season. The number of Alabama deer tested for the presence of CWD is as follows:

2001-02          90
2002-03        440
2003-04        768
2004-05        736
2005-06        779
2006-07        654
2007-08        627
2008-09        606
2009-10        308
2010-11        311

Total           5,319

None of those deer tested positive for the disease. Plans are to continue this testing program during the 2011-2012 season.

What can the public do to help?

Citizens of Alabama can assist the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries with its CWD monitoring program. The first and most important way to assist is to report any transport of live deer or elk on Alabama's roads and highways. Please call the Operation Game Watch line immediately at 1-800-272-4263 if you see live deer or elk being transported in Alabama. Contacting the Division immediately makes it more likely the deer or elk will be intercepted before they can be released.

The public also can help the Division in their active monitoring program. A CWD infected deer will behave abnormally, showing little of their normal wariness or fear of humans. Infected animals also will become emaciated (skinny). It is important to note that other diseases may exhibit similar symptoms. Please call the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Office nearest you or the Operation Game Watch line at 1-800-272-4263 if you spot a deer that exhibits these clinical signs of CWD. Personnel with the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries will contact you to obtain additional information.

The greatest single threat of introducing CWD into Alabama's deer herd is from the illegal importation of deer or elk into the state. Cooperation from our hunters and landowners is essential to keeping CWD out or Alabama. Prohibiting the movement of deer and elk will greatly reduce the chances of an undetected ease of CWD spreading to a greater number of uninfected animals. We need your support to maintain our CWD free status - be informed, be vigilant, and be responsible.

Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance

The Boone and Crockett Club, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Mule Deer Foundation formed the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance in January 2002. The organizations agreed to pool resources, share information, and collaborate on ways to positively address the CWD issue. Other organizations have since joined the alliance.

The mission of the CWD Alliance is to promote responsible and accurate communications regarding CWD, and to support strategies that effectively control CWD to minimize its impact on wild, free-ranging cervids including deer, elk, and moose.  The CWD Alliance webiste is an excellent resource for hunters to obtain information regarding the latest CWD news and updates.  Please click here for the latest map of where CWD is known to occur. 

Alabama's Chronic Wasting Disease Response Plan

Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries formalized a revised Chronic Wasting Disease Response Plan in January, 2013.  The document is available electronically by clicking here.


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