Chronic wasting disease in Oregon
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a fatal neurological disease infecting deer and elk across North America. While CWD has not yet been detected in Oregon, the recent discovery of a case of CWD in Idaho means both hunters and wildlife managers need to be on the watch.
In this Article
CWD: Highly contagious, always fatal
Chronic Wasting Disease is a fatal, infectious disease that affects members of the Cervid family such as deer, elk and moose. It’s spread by nose-to-nose contact between animals and through urine, feces, blood and saliva. In addition, the disease-causing agents, called prions, are shed by infected animals and can persist in the soil for years, potentially infecting other animals.
The more animals are congregated the easier it is for CWD to pass from one to another. This makes commercial elk and other Cervid ranches highly susceptible to CWD, in addition to wild Cervids that often gather in large herds in the winter.
CWD is usually diagnosed by testing brain or lymph tissues from dead animals. Live animal testing is used on some occasions but the tests are conducted mostly in research and require animal capture.
These factors -- highly infectious, long-lived prions, diagnosis using deceased animals – leave wildlife managers with challenges for minimizing the effects of CWD in animal populations once it has become established.
CWD in Oregon
Over the past 50 years, CWD has been detected in captive and/or wild cervids in 26 states and four provinces. As of December 2021, CWD has not yet been detected in Oregon. However, in November 2021 CWD was found in two hunter-harvested mule deer in Idaho within 30 miles from the Snake River and Oregon border.
ODFW has been on the lookout for CWD since the late 1990s. Over the past 20+ years, staff have collected and tested nearly 24,000 samples from hunter harvested, road-killed and other dead deer and elk found in the field.
With Idaho's detection, ODFW is ramping up CWD testing of deer and elk, particularly in northeastern Oregon, and asking hunters, roadkill salvagers and others to help the Department look for the state’s potential first case of the disease. Finding the disease early before it has spread is the is the best way to control CWD and mange the effects in the state’s deer and elk populations.
What hunters can do
Don’t bring certain animal parts home
If you harvest a deer, elk, moose or caribou in any other state or Canadian province, don’t bring home parts of the animal known to harbor the disease, namely the brain and spinal column.
Hunters who bring illegal parts into Oregon will have those parts and potentially their entire harvested animal confiscated and may be liable for the cost of incinerating them.
For more guidance on what parts can be brought into Oregon please see the Parts Ban under General Hunting Regulations in the Big Game Hunting Regulations. Note that the Parts Ban now extends to all 50 states, provinces and other countries not just those with a documented case of CWD.
“If we ever document CWD in Oregon, we want to act quickly and will need the support of Oregon hunters. Early detection is our best chance to keep the disease from spreading, should it enter the state." - Colin Gillin, ODFW State Wildlife Veterinarian.
Leave carcass parts in the state of harvest
If you harvested a deer or elk in another state, ODFW recommends that you remove all the meat from that animal and leave the bones, organs, brain and spinal column in the state of harvest or follow that state’s carcass disposal recommendations. Many states provide carcass parts receptacles or dumpsters, or recommend carcasses be deposited in their landfill rather than on the landscape.
Oregon hunters hunting in Oregon have no restrictions for carcass transport or disposal. However, ODFW biologists and veterinarians recommend that hunters not dispose of waste parts (bones, organs) in areas other than near the site of the kill, directly in a landfill or via routine garbage disposal with your service provider.
Get your animal tested for CWD
ODFW will set up CWD check stations along major highways during the deer and elk hunting seasons in 2022. Look for highway signs directing hunters to pull over at one of these stations and have their animal tested.
Beginning in 2022, stopping at a CWD check station when you pass it on the highway will be mandatory if you are transporting harvested wildlife. HB 3152, a bill introduced by the Oregon Hunters Association and passed by the 2021 Oregon State Legislature, makes stopping at a CWD check station you drive by mandatory beginning Jan. 1, 2022.
In addition to the check stations, ODFW biologists and veterinarians are happy to sample your harvested deer or elk for CWD and provide you with the results via an online reporting system. Please contact your local ODFW office to set up an appointment to have your deer or elk tested for CWD. ODFW is most interested in deer and elk that are adult animals versus fawns or calves. For testing, ODFW will need the animal’s head and at least one vertebrae below the skull – keep your deer/elk head cool prior to sampling if possible.
When you bring your animal head or carcass in for testing, ODFW also will take a tooth for aging. You should receive a postcard several months later with information about the animal’s age.
If you see or harvest a sick deer or elk, DO NOT EAT THE MEAT. Report it to the ODFW Wildlife Health Lab number at 866-968-2600 or by email to Wildlife.health@ODFW.Oregon.Gov.
Any adult deer or elk salvaged under Oregon’s new roadkill law is also being tested for CWD.
Avoid using deer/elk urine products
The use of products containing commercial deer or elk urine (scent lures) has been banned in Oregon as part of efforts across North America to reduce the risk of spreading Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).
In 2019, the Oregon Legislature passed HB 2294 that bans all commercially produced deer and elk urine scents that contain or are derived from any cervid urine to reduce the threat of CWD to the state’s deer, elk and moose populations.
Oregon’s ban follows several other states and is in keeping with a recommendation from the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) Best Management Practices for prevention and management of CWD.
Hunters or businesses who have these products should safely dispose of them by bringing them to an ODFW district office. ODFW staff will arrange for any scent products collected to be incinerated in an 1,800-degree oven, a temperature known to kill the prion that causes CWD.
“It’s important that these products are not poured down a drain or on the ground when they are discarded. We want to limit the CWD prion that causes the disease from being deposited on the landscape.” - Colin Gillin
What ODFW is doing
CWD has been on ODFW’s radar since 1996 when the department began testing, with almost 24,000 deer and elk sampled for the disease to date. This has included hunter-harvest animals, roadkill and other animals found dead or sick in the field.
Since 2002, ODFW’s response to the CWD threat has focused on prevention, surveillance and response guided by a team of biologists and veterinarians using the most current technology to combat the disease and following a CWD surveillance and response plan
Efforts to keep CWD out of Oregon
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife staff and Commission have taken several actions since 2002 to try to prevent the spread of CWD to Oregon. These actions include:
- Banning the importation of live Cervids into Oregon.
- Restricting the importation of intact carcasses by hunters and banning import of specific cervid carcass parts containing central nervous system tissue (brain and spinal column) from animals killed in other states, provinces and countries.
- Requiring all hunters transporting harvested wildlife to stop at ODFW check stations when encountered.
- Banning all commercially produced deer and elk urine scent products that contain or are derived from any cervid urine. The import of reproductive products for artificial insemination must be pre-approved by the department and originate from a CWD-negative state or province.
- Requiring captive cervid facilities to report all deceased captive elk and submit for testing the heads of all animals older than six months dying of any cause.
Surveillance in Oregon elk and deer herds
Keeping CWD out of Oregon forever may not be possible. However, if it does enter the state limiting its distribution will depend on knowing the percentage of animals infected and where they’re located. ODFW has been monitoring deer and elk for CWD for decades now; however, with CWD at the border these efforts will become more critical and targeted. This will include:
- Increased hunter harvest sampling to collect high-risk animals in areas where CWD may by likely to enter the state such as herds in areas bordering states with active CWD, road-kill sampling, adult male deer sampling.
- Having all hunters encountering check stations stop to have their animal sampled and tested beginning Jan. 1, 2022. While ODFW has been staffing CWD check stations for years, stopping to have your deer or elk checked has been voluntary in the past.
- Continue testing deer and elk for CWD as part of the roadkill salvage program.
- Work with taxidermists and commercial meat processors to collect samples for testing and develop rules for the safe disposal of animal waste that could carry the CWD prion, namely the brain, spinal cord, lymph nodes, etc.
Planning a response to a CWD detection
ODFW has recently revised the Oregon CWD management plan initially written in 2005 and updated in 2010 and 2015. The current revision is based on the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Best Management Practices for the Prevention, Surveillance and Management of CWD. ODFW’s plan addresses four implementation actions:
- Notify partner sportsman’s groups, agencies and the hunter whose animal tested positive.
- Determine the range of cervid species affected, distribution and prevalence of the disease.
- Control the number and movement of potentially infected animals and manage the disease through strategic response actions
- Relay accurate information to the media, hunters and other members of the public.
Unfortunately, there have been very few successful efforts to control the spread of CWD in states where the disease has been found. The success of the ODFW plan will depend on hunter cooperation, good communication with stakeholders, and implementing state-of-the-art strategies for CWD management.
These strategies could include changes to big game hunting seasons or bag limits. For example, there is some evidence that increased hunting pressure to sustain long-term reduction of wild herd sizes in disease hot spots may be effective.
Frequently asked questions
As a hunter, how can I protect myself from possible contact with CWD?
- Don’t harvest an animal that looks sick.
- Use rubber or latex gloves when dressing your animal.
- Avoid handling the brain or spinal column when dressing your animal as these tissues are where CWD-causing proteins are known to concentrate.
- Bone out the meat, if possible, and don't saw through the brain, spinal column or other bone.
- Clean your hands and tools thoroughly after dressing an animal. The CWD proteins are very resistant to high temperatures and anti-bacterial soap. Soak your tools in a 50-50 mix of bleach and warm water for one hour to disinfect them.
- Request that each animal you harvest is processed at a meat processor individually, without meat from other animals mixed in.
How can I tell if a deer or elk Has CWD?
The principal method used to diagnose an animal with CWD is to sample certain lymph nodes in the head or a part of the brain-stem post-mortem. Most animals diagnosed with CWD show no signs or symptoms. However, if you see an animal that looks sick, thin and obviously not healthy it could have CWD. Some signs of animals clinically ill with CWD include loss of bodily functions, staggering, standing with an exaggerated wide posture, carrying the head and ears low, drooling, drinking large amounts of water, excessive urination and having poor body condition i.e., looking like they are “wasting” away.
It is important to note the symptoms of CWD are not visible in an animal right away. It usually takes 1-2 years before an infected animal displays symptoms. However, a healthy-looking animal can still be infected and shed the prion, so identifying these animals early is very important in managing the disease.
What should I do if I see an animal that shows CWD symptoms?
Never shoot animals that look sick. If you see a deer or elk that appears sick, accurately document the location of the animal, and immediately contact the nearest ODFW office or the Wildlife Health Lab at 866-968-2600. Do not attempt to disturb, kill or remove the animal.
Can humans get CWD?
There is no evidence that humans can contract Chronic Wasting Disease from eating or handling contaminated meat. However, we still recommend you NOT eat any meat from infected animals. Humans are susceptible to other similar diseases such as Mad Cow disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), which is a naturally occurring human-form of a similar prion disease. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also recommends caution and provides additional information on their website.
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