Chronic Wasting Disease

Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD, is a neurological disease that affects white-tailed deer and other members of the deer family. The symptoms are the same as many other illnesses such as poor balance and excessive salivation, but the only way to know for sure is by tissue testing in the lab.

Adam Janke is an Extension wildlife specialist at Iowa State University. He says there are two ways that CWD is spread. One is through direct transmission through feces, saliva, urine, and antler velvet. The disease can also reside in the soil, be taken up by plants, and transmit to deer that feed in the area for years to come.

"That component makes this disease even more challenging than other diseases. Add on top of that, it’s 100% fatal, deer don’t recover from chronic wasting disease. Also, we think because of that, once it’s in a population, it’s really hard to get rid of," says Janke. "So, this is a real unique and real serious challenge that we face with CWD and wild deer."

If you see sick deer, notify your local conservation office. In areas where CWD is known to exist, landowners are being asked to participate in surveillance, and manage deer densities by not feeding and concentrating deer.

"Basically, the only management strategy we have for addressing CWD is to try to reduce the densities of the deer in CWD-positive areas," he says. "That leads to less opportunity for transmission among a lower density of deer, and then it also may reduce the probability that deer will leave the area looking for better habitat, spreading the disease into additional areas."

Learn more about chronic wasting disease and where it’s been found