The topic of Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD, is mysterious and scary for many hunters. CWD is spreading in deer herds across North America. In several locations around the U.S. where the disease is established, infection rates may exceed 10 percent. CWD has spread to the deer herd population state of Michigan a few years ago, this year, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is taking measures to eradicate and monitor the disease. To answer some of the questions many hunters have about CWD, HuntWise staffer Molly, interviewed John Neiwoonder the senior wildlife biologist for two counties that are trying Antler Point Restrictions this year to monitor CWD; Montcalm and Ionia counties.

1. What is CWD?

Chronic Wasting Disease is a neurological disease affecting cervid animals in North America like deer, elk and moose. Chronic Wasting Disease is not a typical disease, it is not a virus or a bacterium. It is caused by misfolded proteins called; prions. They are normal but then when they become misfolded they don’t function and the deer has a lot of problems with brain activity. Even though the concern for CWD has arisen in the last ten years, it has been around for 40 or 50 years.

2. Where is CWD Found?
Where Chronic Wasting Disease Has Been Found

The Center for Disease Control reports that CWD was first identified in captive deer in a Colorado research facility in the late 1960s, and in wild deer in 1981. It has gradually spread to other states and Canadian Provinces. As of August 2019, there were 277 counties in 24 states with reported CWD in free-ranging cervids.

3. What Do Infected Deer Look Like?

Deer with CWD may not show symptoms for up to six to nine months or more.  They look like perfectly normal and healthy deer you cannot tell they have the disease. Once the deer have the disease for a while they do start to have symptoms. The ears droop, they get thin, they salivate and drool an obvious amount, and most lose their fear of humans.

4. How is the Disease Spread?

Transmission from deer to deer is still a mystery to wildlife biologists. We know that CWD is not spread by mosquitos or bugs of any kind. It is believed to be passed when feces, saliva or urine that hits the ground and is ingested by other deer as they sniffing around on the ground. There Is no clear link between doe to fawn.

5. Can We Eat Deer with Chronic Wasting Disease?

Even though no hunter has ever gotten CWD from eating deer meat, it’s not a good idea to take the risk. Health professionals recommend not eating a deer if you know it is sick.  If you harvest a deer in an area where CWD is present it is recommended you get the meet tested. Michigan DNR biologist, John Neiwoonder said, “We need people to keep hunting and get their deer tested if you are concerned about the disease”

Long Term Outlook

CWD is continuing to spread across the United States. In the state of Michigan around 120 deer test positive for the disease. That is less than one percent. Each state agency is working to monitor and control the disease. Many universities and fish and wildlife agencies are looking for ways to fight the disease. As of 2019 there have not by any conclusive breakthroughs, in combating chronic wasting disease.

  • To find a list of Michigan deer check stations, click here.
  • To learn more about CWD and track its spread head to CWD-info.org