CWD Not Yet Found in Humans

If you do any hunting of deer, elk, mulies, or moose in the United States you may have heard about today’s subject – Chronic Wasting Disease. I found out the other year that the family property that I hunt had been absorbed into a CWD monitoring area and that’s when I started educating myself. The expanding boundaries of the monitoring area has caused me all kinds of consternation which I’ll get into in a bit, but I saw a recent article which at least provided some reassuring news – there is as yet no evidence in surveillance populations of human beings being infected by CWD – by consuming meat or by any other exposure to infected game animals. This is excellent news for hunters.


Chronic Wasting Disease (acronym CWD) is one of a collection of diseases caused by “prions” – abnormal proteins that are transmitted animal to animal (or person-to person) which cause a disease state of the central nervous system. More specifically it causes neurodegenerative disease that is inevitably fatal.

Prions are a  “neither fish nor fowl” kind of thing. They aren’t actually alive, and they aren’t like viruses or bacteria. They are proteins that manage to reproduce themselves, and they are notoriously difficult to “kill”. Standard autoclaving procedures won’t do it, most chemical treatments won’t do it – they’re kind of scary that way.

There are prion diseases that affect humans and prion diseases that affect certain animal species. With few exceptions the diseases don’t seem to cross species, but research is ongoing, particularly with a prion disease that affects cattle – BSE or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy or “Mad Cow Disease” – which appears to have some rare cases of human transmission.

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a prion disease that affects ungulates – elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, sika deer, and moose.


CWD was first identified in the 1960’s in a captive deer population in the western US and was discovered in wild populations in 1981. Since then there has been continued spread despite ongoing control efforts.

Current research indicates that spread of CWD occurs among cervid populations via body fluids like saliva, feces, urine, and blood. The contact can be either direct or indirect as the prions apparently do not degrade in the environment for extended periods of time and can remain infectious for years. These proteins aren’t “alive” in the traditional sense, so they are often resistant to traditional means of disinfection.


As of July 2023, thirty-one US states and four Canadian provinces have been affected by CWD.

Also affected are reindeer and moose in some parts of Scandinavia and some imported deer in South Korea.

Control measures

Control measures vary by region/state and governing body. Where I hunt the state game commission has jurisdiction. It has implemented measures such as banning wildlife feeding and bait stations in affected and surveillance areas – even on private property. It has also banned the use of urine lures (Prions can be transmitted via urine). It has banned the removal of deer carcasses taken in a restricted area until neurological tissue has been removed. There are only a handful of “approved” butchers you can take the carcass to as well. There are also “head bins” for those who butcher their own deer so the state can test the brain tissue, and then notify you via online code if your deer was positive.

Finding Balance

All of these control measures are obviously important, but it’s a balancing act between taking precautions to control the spread of the disease and causing a drop-off in hunting, which is the single main herd population control method. Not to mention that hunting pours millions of dollars into conservation coffers every year.

But if as a crossbow hunter I can’t have a feeder and I can’t use lures ( except maybe apple scent spray?) then that reduces my chances of success. Even more-so on a property that is two hours away, which makes it difficult to scout, even with cameras. Then there is the separate issue of antler restrictions to contend with. It’s a huge pain in the patoot and it causes me a lot of discouragement in my hunting life. Yes I am fully aware that it’s called “hunting” and not necessarily “harvesting”, but there has to be occasional success in order to provide positive reinforcement. I have not yet had that on family property in the CWD zone.

I paid money to go on a guided women’s hunt elsewhere last year because I got so discouraged on my own property. I’m not sure I’ll even buy a license this year. I have to pay extra for an out-of-state license and I feel like I am throwing away a hundred-plus dollars to hunt on a property which doesn’t offer me much chance of success.

BUT – at least the good news this week is that they haven’t found any hunters eating deer meat or handling infected carcasses that have caught CWD in 20-30 years. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

Dr LateBloomer
Dr LateBloomer is a female general pediatrician who bought her first firearm at the age of 46. She now enjoys many different shooting disciplines including self-defense, IDPA, Steel/Rimfire Challenge, Sporting clays, and even tried 3-Gun for several years. She has gotten started in hunting and has expanded into crossbow. She is a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment and works to enlighten her medical colleagues whenever possible.