Frequently Asked Questions About Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)

Chronic Wasting Disease Fact Sheet PDF icon

General Questions

  1. What is Chronic Wasting Disease?
  2. Where has CWD been found?
  3. Where was the first CWD free-ranging deer in Michigan located?
  4. Where were the 2017 Michigan privately-owned cervid facility positive cases located?
  5. With the finding of the new CWD POC deer, what does this mean for hunters and landowners in Mecosta County or surrounding areas?
  6. How is CWD transmitted?
  7. Now that CWD has been found in Michigan, what are the DNR and Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) doing?
  8. How do I dispose of deer harvested in the area?
  9. Does CWD pose a health risk to humans?
  10. How can CWD be treated and controlled in wildlife?
  11. Why should people outside of the CWD Management Zone care about the disease?
  12. How can you tell if a deer has CWD?
  13. What should I do if I see a deer that shows CWD symptoms?

Landowner and Hunter Assistance and Cooperation Questions

  1. Am I allowed to bait or feed deer?
  2. Will additional antlerless licenses and seasons be available?
  3. Will there be a discount on antlerless deer licenses in DMU 333, the Core CWD Area?
  4. What do I do if I harvest a deer in the Core CWD Area (DMU 333)?
  5. Where will the DNR deer check stations be in DMU 333?
  6. How long will I have to wait for my test results before I can transport my deer outside of the 20-township Core CWD Area (DMU 333)?
  7. How do I dispose of a deer harvested in the area?
  8. I am a landowner in the 20-township Core CWD Area, how can I help with disease surveillance on my property?
  9. What will happen with any road-kill deer in the 20-township Core CWD Area?
  10. Will salvage of road-kill deer in the 20-township Core CWD Area still be allowed?
  11. Can deer be rehabilitated within the five-county CWD Management Zone?
  12. Can I request my deer be tested for CWD if I harvested it outside the 20-township Core CWD Area?
  13. What if my harvested deer tests positive for CWD?

What is Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)?
CWD is a neurological (brain and nervous system) disease found in deer, elk, and moose, otherwise known as cervids. The disease belongs to a family of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE) or prion diseases. The disease attacks the brains of infected animals and produces small lesions that result in death. While CWD is similar to mad cow disease in cattle and scrapie in sheep, there is no known relationship between CWD and any other TSE of animals or people. For more information on CWD, please visit www.michigan.gov/cwd.

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Where has CWD been found? 
In North America, a total of 24 states and 2 Canadian Provinces have found CWD in either free-ranging or captive cervids, or both. In Michigan, CWD was confirmed in August 2008 at a Kent County privately-owned cervid (POC) facility and in January 2017 at a POC facility in Mecosta County. In addition, since May 2015, CWD has been found in nine free-ranging deer within Meridian Township in Ingham County and Dewitt, Eagle, and Watertown townships in Clinton County.

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Where was the first CWD free-ranging deer in Michigan located?
In April 2015, a female, six-year-old, free-ranging white-tailed deer in Ingham County was exhibiting symptoms consistent with CWD and was euthanized as part of an ongoing targeted surveillance. The deer was sent to DNR's Wildlife Disease Laboratory where, collaborating with Michigan State University's Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health, it was identified as "suspect positive." The deer was confirmed on May 20, 2015 as positive by the National Veterinary Services Laboratory (NVSL) in Ames, Iowa.

Since the initial free-ranging deer was discovered and tested positive, additional deer have also tested positive from the same general area as the first case. For current testing numbers and positive cases related to free-ranging deer, please see the Bi-weekly CWD Status Update for free-ranging deer.  

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Where were the 2017 Michigan privately-owned cervid facility positive cases located?
In January 2017, two does in a POC facility in Mecosta County were submitted for CWD testing to Michigan State University’s Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health. Annual CWD animal testing is required as part of the POC regulations. The two does were confirmed on Jan. 17, 2017 as positive by the National Veterinarian Service Laboratory (NVSL) in Ames, Iowa. In 2008, a POC in Kent County was confirmed to have a CWD positive white-tailed (farmed) deer. No additional positive animals were found at that time in the facility or within any free-ranging deer in the surrounding areas.

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With the finding of the new CWD POC deer, what does this mean for hunters and landowners in Mecosta County or surrounding areas?

Although CWD has not been detected in free-ranging deer near this facility, the DNR will conduct surveillance for the disease. 

The DNR is:

  • Creating a 9-township CWD Surveillance Area (CSA). Townships include: Mecosta, Austin, Morton, Hinton, Cato, Winfield, Reynolds, Aetna, and Deerfield townships.
  • Establishing surveillance goals.
  • Immediately implementing targeted surveillance (with help from USDA Wildlife Services) near the POC facility.
  • Starting April 1, offering Disease Control Permits (DCP’s) to specific landowners within the CSA.
  • Allowing road-kill deer to be picked up by the public with a salvage tag; however, the head must be submitted to the Department for testing.
  • Encouraging public to report any sick deer within the CSA.
  • Highly discouraging wildlife feeding within the CSA.
  • Mandatory checking of deer during the deer hunting seasons.

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How is CWD transmitted?
Current scientific understanding suggests it may be transmitted both directly through animal to animal contact as well as indirectly through a contaminated environment. Previous studies have shown that CWD prions exist in the saliva, urine, blood, and feces of infected cervids. Additionally, a study from the University of Wisconsin suggests that the CWD prion can remain indefinitely in certain types of soil, and binding to soil dramatically increases the infectiousness of CWD prions.

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Now that CWD has been found in Michigan, what are the DNR and Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) doing?
The DNR and MDARD are following the steps outlined in the Michigan Surveillance and Response Plan for Chronic Wasting Disease in free-ranging deer and privately owned cervid facilities, which was developed in 2002 and revised in 2012 to address this nationally emerging disease. Since the development of the plan, MDARD and DNR have had a surveillance program in place to detect CWD in privately owned or free-ranging cervids.

As outlined in the plan, the following steps have or will occur now that a CWD case has been confirmed in a free-ranging deer:

  • Completing a population survey in the areas where CWD-positive deer have been found.
  • Establishing a new Core CWD Area, which will continue to be referred to as Deer Management Unit (DMU) 333, consisting of Lansing, Meridian, Williamstown, Delhi, Alaiedon, and Wheatfield townships in Ingham County; DeWitt , Bath, Watertown, Eagle, Westphalia, Riley, Olive, and Victor townships in Clinton County; Woodhull Township in Shiawassee County; Oneida, Roxand, and Delta townships in Eaton County; and Portland and Danby townships in Ionia County. Mandatory checking of deer will be required in this area during hunting seasons and restrictions will apply to the movement of carcasses and parts of deer taken in this area.
  • Creating a new CWD Management Zone, named DMU 419, which will now include all of Clinton, Eaton, Ingham, Ionia, and Shiawassee counties.
  • Establishing a new Core CWD Area within DMU 354, which will be referred to as Deer Management Unit (DMU) 359 - consisting of Mecosta, Austin, Morton, Hinton, Aetna, and Deerfield townships in Mecosta county, and Cato, Winfield, and Reynolds townships in Montcalm county.
  • Implementing a deer and elk feeding and baiting ban, which will include the Core CWD Area and the larger five-county CWD Management Zone.

In addition:

  • Research shows CWD-infected deer are more likely to be hit by vehicles because of their illness. DNR staff is working with local officials to collect fresh road-killed deer in the 20-township Core CWD Area surrounding the infected deer. Those deer will be sent to the DNR Wildlife Disease Laboratory for testing. Any road-kills found in this area should be called into the DNR Wildlife Disease Hotline at 517-614-9602. Leave a voicemail indicating location, and staff will pick up carcasses on the next open business day.
    • Roadkill deer found in the Core CWD area may be possessed with a Department issued salvage tag. However the head must be submitted to a Department biologist, biologist appointee, or check station to acquire a salvage permit from a Law Enforcement Officer or a Department employee.
  • The DNR is working with Meridian Township officials to develop a plan that removes a significant number of deer for testing within 2 miles of the positive animal.
  • MDARD will conduct enhanced surveillance through testing, record keeping, and fence checks for 60 months on all privately owned cervid facilities within a 15-mile radius of where the infected deer was discovered.

Landowner and hunter assistance and cooperation

  • Within the 20-township Core CWD Area (DMU 333):
    • There will be a ban on baiting and feeding of deer.
    • Unlimited antlerless deer hunting licenses will be available.
    • A person killing a deer within the core CWD area must surrender the head to a department designated check station within 72 hours of killing the deer for testing. The hunter may retain the antlers attached to the skull cap, cleaned of all brain and muscle tissue. 
    • Mandatory checking of deer will be required during deer seasons to test for CWD in harvested deer.
    • Disease control permits will be handed out in this area to landowners willing to help with surveillance. Antlerless deer licenses will be discounted for both residents and nonresidents. The area will be eligible to be hunted during the early antlerless deer season.
    • All road-kill deer will be collected and tested for CWD.
    • Roadkill deer found in the Core CWD area may be possessed with a Department issued salvage tag. However the head must be submitted to a Department biologist, biologist appointee, or check station to acquire a salvage permit from a Law Enforcement Officer or a Department employee.
    • Elimination of antler point restrictions in DMU 333 to maximize harvest and to help prevent the potential spread of disease.
    • Private lands in both the CWD Management Zone and Core CWD Area are open for the early antlerless firearm deer season.
    • Open DMU 419 to the early antlerless deer season and establish an antlerless license quota of 40,000 for private land and 2,000 for public land.
  • Within the five-county CWD Management Zone (DMU 419):
    • There will be a ban on baiting and feeding of deer.
    • Antlerless quotas during hunting season will be increased to help reduce the population to help prevent deer-to-deer spread of the disease.
    • An early antlerless deer season will be added.
    • Private lands in both the CWD Management Zone and Core CWD Area are open for the early antlerless firearm deer season.
  • Within the 9-township Core CWD Area (DMU 359): 
    • Baiting is permitted but discouraged.
    • A person killing a deer within the core CWD area must surrender the head to a department designated check station within 72 hours of killing the deer for testing. The hunter may retain the antlers attached to the skull cap, cleaned of all brain and muscle tissue. 
    • Mandatory checking of deer will be required during deer seasons to test for CWD in harvested deer.
    • Disease control permits will be handed out in this area to landowners willing to help with surveillance. Antlerless deer licenses will be discounted for both residents and nonresidents. The area will be eligible to be hunted during the early antlerless deer season.
    • All road-kill deer will be collected and tested for CWD.
    • Roadkill deer found in the Core CWD area may be possessed with a Department issued salvage tag. However the head must be submitted to a Department biologist, biologist appointee, or check station to acquire a salvage permit from a Law Enforcement Officer or a Department employee.
  • Additional deer-check stations will be established in the Core CWD Areas and the CWD Management Zones to accommodate hunters.

Possession of any live free-ranging deer is illegal. Taking an unhealthy deer from the environment and attempting to rehabilitate it has the potential to increase the spread of CWD by bringing infected deer into contact with other deer in rehabilitation centers, and contaminating those facilities with CWD.  

  • Permittees located within CWD Management Zone 419 may no longer rehabilitate deer. Rehabbing deer in the CWD Surveillance Zone in Mecosta and Montcalm counties, specifically Austin, Aetna, Deerfield, Hinton, Mecosta, Morton, Cato, Reynolds, and Winfield Townships, is strongly discouraged.
  • Allowing rehabilitators from within either CWD Management Zone and Core CWD Area to euthanize deer obtained from within the CWD Management Zone or Core CWD Area within 24 hours of receipt. The deer must be submitted to the Wildlife Disease Laboratory for disease testing after being euthanized.
  • Prohibiting deer found outside of either CWD Management Zone or Core CWD Area from being taken to a rehabilitator from within the CWD Management Zone or Core CWD Area.

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How do I dispose of a deer harvested in the area?

  • Hunters processing deer harvested in either Core CWD Area should dispose of the leftover parts in their garbage or a landfill. Leftover parts from an infected deer, especially heads and backbones, contain CWD prions and if discarded on the landscape those prions can persist for decades.

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Does CWD pose a health risk to humans?
CWD has never been shown to cause illness in humans. For more than two decades CWD has been present in free-ranging populations of mule deer and elk in Colorado. During this time, there has been no known occurrence of a human contracting any disease from eating CWD infected meat. However, public health officials recommend that people and domestic animals not consume meat from deer that test CWD-positive. Some simple precautions should be taken when field dressing deer in the CWD Management Zone:

  • Wear rubber gloves when field dressing your deer.
  • Bone out the meat from your deer.
  • Minimize the handling of brain and spinal tissues.
  • Wash hands and instruments thoroughly after field dressing is completed.
  • Avoid consuming brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils and lymph nodes of harvested animals. (Normal field dressing coupled with boning out of a carcass will essentially remove all of these parts.)
  • Request that your animal is processed individually, without meat from other animals being added to meat from your animal.

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How can CWD be treated and controlled in wildlife?
There is currently no treatment for CWD; it is fatal in all cases. CWD transmission can be minimized by limiting contact between infected and non-infected animals. Feeding and baiting bans are one of the only practical ways to limit that contact.

The DNR and MDARD are working to maintain the integrity of Michigan's white-tailed deer, elk, and moose herds. Surveillance, cervid importation restrictions, and required CWD testing of suspect animals continue to be the key to CWD control.

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Why should people outside of the CWD Management Zone care about the disease?
A healthy white-tailed deer population in Michigan is important. Chronic wasting disease is a statewide issue for the following reasons:

  • Chronic wasting disease can spread through the deer herd.
  • All deer infected with CWD die from the disease.
  • Established CWD could significantly reduce the number of deer in Michigan and/or significantly depress older age classes, especially mature older-aged bucks.
  • White-tailed deer are native to Michigan and it is important to preserve our native wildlife.
  • Any regional threat to a healthy deer population is a statewide concern.
  • A healthy deer herd is important for hunting traditions. Michigan has more than 650,000 deer hunters who have harvested an average of 430,000 deer annually during the past decade. Deer hunting contributes more than 10 million days of recreation every year.
  • Deer hunting contributes most of the $2.3 billion annually generated to the economy by hunters in Michigan.
  • Without appropriate management within the current CWD Management Zone, the disease may spread to other areas of the state.

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How can you tell if a deer has CWD?
Infected animals may not show any symptoms of the disease for a long period of time, even years. Nevertheless, they are infectious to other cervids. In the later stages of the disease infected animals begin to lose bodily functions and display abnormal behavior such as staggering. Animals may have an exaggerated wide posture, or may carry the head and ears lowered. Infected animals become very emaciated (thus wasting disease) and will appear in very poor body condition. Infected animals will also often stand near water. Drooling or excessive salivation may be apparent. Note that these symptoms may also be characteristic of diseases other than CWD.

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What should I do if I see a deer that shows CWD symptoms?
You should accurately document the location of the animal and immediately call the Report All Poach (RAP) Line (1-800-292-7800). Do not attempt to contact, disturb, kill, or remove the animal.

For more information about how Michigan is working to prevent CWD from infecting Michigan's free-ranging cervid populations and control CWD in deer and elk facilities, see the Emerging Diseases website, and in particular the Michigan Surveillance and Response Plan for CWD of Free-ranging and Privately Owned Cervids Plan.

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Am I allowed to bait or feed deer?
Baiting and feeding of deer is prohibited year-round within the five-county CWD Management Zone (DMU 419). This includes the 20-township Core CWD Area (DMU 333). Baiting is allowed, but discouraged in DMU 359. See the DNR Website for additional baiting and feeding restrictions in other counties. 

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Will additional antlerless licenses and seasons be available?
Within the 20-township Core CWD Area (DMU 333) unlimited antlerless deer hunting licenses will be available. Antlerless quotas during hunting season have been increased within the five-county CWD Management Zone to help reduce the population to help prevent deer-to-deer spread of the disease. In addition, private lands in both the CWD Management Zone and Core CWD Area are open for the early antlerless firearm deer season.  

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Will there be a discount on antlerless deer licenses in Core CWD Area, DMU 333?
Yes, Antlerless deer licenses will be discounted to $12 in the Core CWD Area (DMU 333), for both residents and nonresidents.

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What do I do if I harvest a deer in either Core CWD Area (DMU 333 or 359)?
Mandatory testing is required of all deer harvested in DMU 333 and 359. Any hunter who harvests a deer in a Core CWD Area must bring the carcass or head to a department designated check station within that Core CWD Area, within the business hours of the next 72 hours of killing the deer.

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Where will the DNR deer check stations be in DMU 333 and 359?
Additional deer-check stations will be established in the Core CWD Area and the CWD Management Zone to accommodate hunters. Visit www.michigan.gov/deer for additional check station locations.

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How long will I have to wait for my test results before I can transport my deer outside of a Core CWD Area (DMU 333 or 359)?
If CWD is detected in a submitted deer, the hunter will be notified by phone. If CWD not detected, test results will be posted online at www.michigan.gov/dnrlab within one week of head or carcass submission.

Once you have submitted the head for testing, you may process the carcass. Please follow the disposal guidelines noted below.

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How do I dispose of a deer harvested in the area?
Hunters processing deer harvested in either Core CWD Area should dispose of the leftover parts in their garbage or a landfill. Leftover parts from an infected deer, especially heads and backbones, contain CWD prions and if discarded on the landscape, those prions can spread disease to healthy deer. Dumpsters will be available at DNR Deer Check Stations within the Core CWD Area.

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I am a landowner in a Core CWD Area, how can I help with disease surveillance on my property?
Disease control permits will be handed out in these areas to landowners willing to help with surveillance. Antlerless deer licenses will be discounted for both residents and nonresidents. The areas will be eligible to be hunted during the early antlerless deer season.

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What will happen with any road-kill deer in the 20-township Core CWD Area?
All road-kill deer will be collected and tested for CWD.

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Will salvage of road-kill deer in the Core CWD Areas still be allowed?
Roadkill deer may be possessed and kept with a Department issued salvage tag. The head must be submitted to a Department biologist, biologist appointee or check station to acquire a salvage permit from a Law Enforcement Officer or Department employee.

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Can deer be rehabilitated within a CWD Management Zone?
Possession of any live free-ranging deer is illegal. Taking an unhealthy deer from the environment and attempting to rehabilitate it has the potential to increase the spread of CWD by bringing infected deer into contact with other deer in rehabilitation centers, and contaminating those facilities with CWD. Rehabilitation of deer in the CWD Management Zone is prohibited.

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Can I request my deer be tested for CWD if I harvested it outside of a Core CWD Area?
Yes, while testing is not required outside of DMU 333, we recommend anyone who is concerned that the deer they harvested may have CWD to submit it for testing at their nearest DNR check station.

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What if my harvested deer tests positive for CWD?
If your submitted deer tests positive for CWD, you will be notified by phone, and you will be issued a replacement tag for the diseased deer.

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