Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a fatal, neurological disease that affects members of the deer family (called cervids), such as white-tailed deer and elk in Missouri. CWD is caused by an abnormal protein, called a prion. The disease causes a degeneration of brain tissue, which slowly leads to death. CWD has no vaccine or cure and is 100-percent fatal. There is no evidence that humans can be infected with CWD. Research is ongoing to determine any public health impacts of the disease.
Deer infected with CWD do not always look sick. Symptoms include excessive salivation, drooping head/ears, tremors, emaciation, and change in behavior such as lack of fear of humans and lack of coordination. It can take months or years for a deer infected with CWD to show symptoms. The disease is spread from deer-to-deer and through contact by deer with contaminated soil, food, and water. Infected deer can spread the disease while appearing healthy.
The Missouri Department of Conservation began monitoring the state’s free-ranging deer for Chronic Wasting Disease in 2001. Chronic Wasting Disease was first detected in captive deer in the state in 2010 and 2011 in Linn and Macon counties. The disease was first detected in free-ranging deer in Macon County in 2012. To date, the disease has been detected in Adair, Cole, Franklin, Linn and Macon counties.
Once established in a deer population, CWD is difficult — if not impossible — to remove. The Missouri Department of Conservation is working with hunters, landowners, and others to slow the spread of the disease and minimize impacts to the state’s deer herd.