Chronic Wasting Disease

Chronic Wasting Disease in Tennessee

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is here. And it’s a major threat to Tennessee’s deer and elk populations, as well as the conservation funding they generate.

CWD is in southwest Tennessee and in four bordering states. Wherever it is, CWD will have a significant and negative impact on our wild deer herds, unless it is aggressively addressed. It holds the potential to forever change our hunting traditions and conservation funding. Hunters must do their part to contain the disease and advocate for policies to combat its spread.

Join with other Tennessee hunters to pledge to contain CWD. Only vigilance and proper management of the herd can stop the spread of CWD in Tennessee.

Management and Containment Must be Our Focus

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a highly-contagious neurological disease that infects deer, elk, and other members of the deer family known as cervidae. It is from the same family of diseases as scrapie in sheep and mad cow disease in cattle. CWD affects a deer’s nervous system causing brain degeneration, extreme weight loss, abnormal behavior, and ultimately death. There is no known cure.

Infected animals may appear to have no symptoms for years while still spreading the disease through saliva, urine, and feces. Infected animals are also more susceptible to predation, being hit by vehicles, hunting mortality, and other causes of death. There is no evidence CWD can be transmitted to humans.

The disease is caused by a misfolded protein called a prion, which is nearly impossible to destroy and remains in the environment for many years. The abnormal prion is transmitted to new animals through direct animal-to-animal contact, as well as contact with feces, saliva, carcass parts, and contaminated environments, such as soil and plants. Dense deer herds and practices such as mineral licks and supplemental feeding concentrate deer into a small area. This speeds up and expands the transmission of this disease within the herd.

With Tennessee now the 26th CWD-positive state—along with our neighbors Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, and Virginia (Source: CWD Alliance)—it is more important than ever for Tennessee hunters to be vigilant. Research shows that focused management and containment as the two most important steps to take.

States that have lived with CWD for decades have learned that without a strong and firm effort to manage and contain CWD, it will become more common and spread into new areas, negatively affected deer populations significantly. This has the potential to change the face of conservation in Tennessee.

Currently, hunters and anglers are the single largest source of funds for wildlife management in the state. If CWD goes unchecked and is allowed to reduce our deer herd and deer hunting opportunities, fewer licenses and equipment will be sold. In turn, this will greatly decrease conservation funds generated from those purchases, which benefit all wildlife. As hunter numbers decline, time-honored traditions will disappear from Tennessee’s landscapes and we’ll lose the original advocates for sound conservation policy in the state.

Tennessee Wildlife Federation will continue to be the voice for hunters, and all those concerned about wildlife conservation in Tennessee—from fighting to uphold bans on baiting to always advocating for hunters to be at the center of efforts to combat CWD.

Right now, the most important step individuals can take is to educate themselves about how they can make sure they don’t accidentally spread the disease and all current regulations set by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

In the News

New CWD Unit Hunting Regulations WBBJ 7 Eyewitness News

More CWD Cases in North Mississippi Mississippi Clarion Ledger

Causes, Cures, Human Transmission? Not really. Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

Quick Facts

  • CWD has been found in southwest Tennessee.
  • The disease is 100% fatal and has no cure.
  • An infected deer can be infected for months to years with no outward signs.
  • Deer in 26 states have tested positive for CWD. Those include Tennessee and its neighbors Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, and Virginia.
  • CWD is caused by an easily transmitted abnormal prion—a misfolded protein that is neither virus or bacteria.
  • The abnormal CWD prion is extremely difficult to destroy. It can remain infectious in the environment, such as in the soil, indefinitely.
  • There is no 100 percent reliable way to test live wildlife for CWD. However, hunters can submit tissue samples for testing.
  • Once CWD is introduced to an area, it is unlikely it can be eliminated. Preventing the spread of the disease is the best way to control CWD.
  • Before CWD was found in Tennessee, a University of Tennessee study estimated that the disease would cost the state $98 million in economic activity and 1,400+ jobs.

More from the Federation about CWD

cwd
deer farm

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Chronic Wasting Disease?

Management and Containment Must be Our Focus

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a highly-contagious neurological disease that infects deer, elk, and other members of the deer family known as cervidae. It is from the same family of diseases as scrapie in sheep and mad cow disease in cattle. CWD affects a deer’s nervous system causing brain degeneration, extreme weight loss, abnormal behavior, and ultimately death. There is no known cure.

Infected animals may appear to have no symptoms for years while still spreading the disease through saliva, urine, and feces. Infected animals are also more susceptible to predation, being hit by vehicles, hunting mortality, and other causes of death. There is no evidence CWD can be transmitted to humans.

The disease is caused by a misfolded protein called a prion, which is nearly impossible to destroy and remains in the environment for many years. The abnormal prion is transmitted to new animals through direct animal-to-animal contact, as well as contact with feces, saliva, carcass parts, and contaminated environments, such as soil and plants. Dense deer herds and practices such as mineral licks and supplemental feeding concentrate deer into a small area. This speeds up and expands the transmission of this disease within the herd.

Can CWD be transmitted to humans?

No. All peer-reviewed studies on this subject have shown that CWD does not cross the species barrier. In other words, there is no evidence that CWD can infect humans.

Regardless, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that meat from a CWD-positive animal be properly disposed of—not consumed.

Sending a sample to be tested in a lab is the best way to determine if a deer is infected. You will likely never see an animal showing symptoms of CWD. Symptoms only appear after months or even years of being infected and the unhealthy animal is often first killed by predators, vehicles, hunters or other diseases.

This could eliminate an important source of food for many Tennesseans, while also removing an incentive to get out and hunt.

Is Chronic Wasting Disease the same as Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) or Bluetongue?

No. Chronic Wasting Disease is a contagious disease with no known cure that has the potential to decimate wild deer populations.

Epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) and bluetongue, while both contagious, are two separate types of viral hemorrhagic disease that can cause short-term declines in localized cervid populations, but do not seem to have any significant effect on long-term herd health and survival.

Both EHD and bluetongue do cause a significant reduction in the physical health and appearance of deer (i.e., wasting) and ulceration, particularly of the mouth and tongue.

Because the viruses are transmitted by biting insects, such as midges, the disease comes and goes with the seasons. Additionally, some deer do survive EHD and bluetongue and are able to pass along immunity to their offspring. This is not the case with CWD as it is always fatal.

What does deer farming have to do with Chronic Wasting Disease?

Deer farming creates high-density populations of deer, making it an ideal environment for transmitting CWD. While deer farms are fenced, escapes of captive deer and elk occur when fences are damaged by storms. Deer farms also regularly transport deer across state lines, which has been shown to be a method CWD can spread in other captive deer herds. In Tennessee, it is illegal to farm white-tailed deer; however, in some cases, elk have been farmed. Captive facilities are under the sole jurisdiction of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.

For these reasons, among others, the Federation opposes deer farming in our state

Is controlling CWD an option?

In short, no. Preventing CWD from entering an area is really the only effective means of ensuring the disease never becomes established. The abnormal prion is extremely hardy and doesn’t break down easily in the environment. To date, no method has been successfully developed to remove the the abnormal prion from an environment once it is established there.

Though they can be controversial, methods for managing and containing the spread of the disease include monitoring herds, testing deer, culling herds, containing infected populations, and enforcing strict carcass disposal and importation rules. These are the only options that have produced positive results.

How much could CWD affect Tennessee’s herd?

This will depend upon how well wildlife professionals and hunters stick to the best practices for managing CWD over the next 5+ years.

If the disease is ignored and not aggressively managed, CWD will infect a higher and higher percentage of deer and expand its range. This will cause our deer herd to become smaller and much younger.

In areas in Wyoming where the disease was not aggressively managed, wildlife biologists estimate a 10 to 20 percent decrease in its mule deer population each year because of CWD. Similarly, in parts of southern Wisconsin the infection rate has been measured between 30 to 50 percent of the deer sampled. Because CWD is always fatal, we know that parts of Wisconsin will lose half of its deer herd.

With good management, it’s possible to make CWD far less common in Tennessee’s herd.

More Information

Photos by Dr. Terry Kreeger