Deer in Spring Landscape

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)


This is the Chronic Wasting Disease masthead depicting three photos of deer in the wild.

CWD Poster for Hunters
(Printable PDF Version)

Maryland’s Chronic Wasting Disease Response Plan

DNR Adopts New Regulations Regarding
Chronic Wasting Disease Management in Allegany County

Deer Disposal Dumpster Locations and Meat Processors Map

CWD Regulations for Deer Hunters

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)
Disease Management Area Established in Maryland


Has Chronic Wasting Disease been found in Maryland?

Yes. In February 2011, DNR received positive laboratory confirmation that a white-tailed deer tested positive for CWD. The deer was harvested by a hunter in Allegany County in November, 2010. Maryland now joins 20 other states and 2 Canadian provinces with CWD documented in deer, elk, and moose.

What is CWD?

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a fatal disease that attacks the brain and spinal cord of deer and elk, specifically white-tailed deer, moose, mule deer, and Rocky Mountain elk. While the exact cause is not known, it is believed to be a prion disease. A prion is an altered protein that causes other normal proteins to change and cause sponge-like holes in the brain. The origin of these prions is currently unknown. CWD is related to, but different from, scrapie in sheep and Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE or mad cow disease) in cattle and Creutzfelt-Jacob Disease (CJD) in humans. These diseases also attack the brain and cause deterioration and eventual death. CWD was first identified in the 1960s in a Colorado research facility and since that time has been found in a variety of states and Canadian provinces. It is unknown whether sika deer are susceptible to CWD.

What are the signs of CWD?

In the early stages of the disease affected animals may not show signs of the disease. As the disease progresses animals infected with CWD will show signs of weight loss, generally accompanied by behavioral changes. In later stages of the disease, affected animals may show emaciation, excessive drooling, increased drinking and urination, listlessness, stumbling, trembling, loss of fear of humans and nervousness.

How is CWD spread?

CWD appears to be passed between animals via saliva, feces or urine. Transmission between females and their fetuses (maternal transmission) does not seem to be a factor although indirect transfer, from contaminated soil for example, may occur. CWD may be transmitted more readily within overpopulated herds and at deer or elk feeding stations where direct physical contact among individuals is more likely. Prion diseases, like CWD, do not move easily between species. CWD is a disease of the deer family and has not been found to be transmitted to humans or other animals.

What is being done to monitor CWD in Maryland?

The MD-DNR has conducted targeted CWD surveillance since 1999 and began intensive surveillance in 2002. Each year a sample of hunter harvested deer are examined with brain and lymph node samples taken. In 2010, sampling efforts were focused on Allegany and western Washington counties due to the presence of positive cases in nearby West Virginia and Virginia. West Virginia first detected CWD in Hampshire County in 2005 and it was found in Frederick County, Virginia in early 2010.

The Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA), Maryland Department of Health & Mental Hygiene (DHMH), the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study (SCWDS), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) are integral partners in all CWD surveillance plans to assist in monitoring wild deer populations, and protect domestic animals and health.

Can CWD be transmitted to people?

CWD is a disease of the deer family and has not been found to be transmitted to humans or other animals. Out of an abundance of caution, however, hunters are advised to avoid contact with the brain, spinal column or lymph nodes. It is also recommended that hunters debone the meat when butchering and sanitize knives and other tools used to butcher your deer. As a general precaution it is recommended that people avoid all wild animals that appear sick.

Do animals recover from CWD?

Unfortunately, no known cure for CWD exists. DNR will continue to intensively sample the deer population in an effort to monitor the geographic extent and the incidence rate of CWD in the herd.

Advice to Hunters Concerning Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)

CWD has not been shown to be transmissible to humans. However, hunters field-dressing or butchering deer should take the same precautions as they might to protect against other pathogens or diseases.

Out of an abundance of caution, DNR recommends that hunters should avoid consuming brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, pancreas, tonsils, lymph nodes and other nervous system tissues of deer. Consumption of these tissues may pose a greater risk of infection with a number of diseases. Field dressing along with boning out a carcass, will remove most, if not all of these tissues. It is also recommended that hunters sanitize knives and other tools used to butcher your deer.

I’ve heard that CWD could possibly be spread through infected urine-based deer lures. What is DNR’s advice to hunters on the use of these products?

Recent research has shown that deer urine can contain infected prions. Until more is known about whether commercial deer lures pose a realistic risk of spreading CWD, we recommend that hunters use caution when placing urine-based lures in the environment and suggest the following:

  • Hunters should avoid placing deer lures on the ground or on vegetation where deer can come into contact with them. Deer lures can be safely placed above deer height, yet still allow air to disperse the scent and attract deer.

  • Hunters should consider replacing their urine-based lures with synthetic, non-urine-based lures.

  • Hunters should not place urine-based lures on their skin or clothing.

  • We recommend that hunters follow these precautions until further research can show that deer urine does not pose a risk of containing infectious prions.

    The following common-sense precautionary measures are recommended for the safe handling, field-dressing and home processing of venison:

    • Avoid shooting or handling a deer that appears sick.

    • Wear latex or rubber gloves when field-dressing or butchering deer.

    • Remove all internal organs.

    • Bone the deer (remove the meat from the bones and spinal column).

    • Do not use household knives or utensils.

    • Avoid cutting through bones or the spinal column (backbone).

    • Never eat a deer’s brain, eyeballs, spinal cord, spleen, or lymph nodes.

    • If you saw off antlers or through a bone, or if you sever the spinal column with a knife, be sure to disinfect these tools prior to using them for the butchering or removal of meat.

    • Remove all fat, membranes and connective tissue from the meat. Note that normal field-dressing and trimming of fat from meat will remove lymph nodes.

    • Always wash hands and instruments thoroughly after dressing and processing game meat.

    • Use a 50/50 solution of household chlorine bleach and water to disinfect tools and work surfaces.

    • Wipe down counters and let them dry; soak knives for one hour.

    A hunter may only bring the following parts of a dead deer, elk or other cervid into Maryland from an area indicated as positive for CWD in free ranging or captive cervids:

    • Meat without the backbone

    • Meat with no part of the spinal column or head attached

    • Cleaned hide with no head attached

    • Skull plate cleaned of all meat and brain tissue

    • Antlers with no meat or soft tissue attached

    • Clean upper canine teeth, also known as buglers, whistlers or ivories

    • Finished taxidermy mount or tanned hide

    The restricted deer body parts (brain, spinal column, lymph glands, etc) contain the highest concentrations of infectious tissues. By restricting the importation of tissues from known CWD infected areas, the risk of CWD being transported to areas not infected is reduced.

    Importation of whole deer, elk moose or other cervid carcasses is prohibited from the CWD positive areas identified within the states and provinces listed below. To get the latest information on CWD positive areas in any of these states or provinces call the number listed or go to

  • Alberta Province (780) 427-3462
  • Colorado (303) 291-7275
  • Illinois (517) 557-1052
  • Iowa (515) 281-6156
  • Kansas (785) 296-2326
  • Michigan (517) 373-1263
  • Minnesota (651) 296-2942
  • Missouri (573) 751-3377
  • Montana (406) 994-5671
  • Nebraska (402) 370-3374
  • New Mexico (505) 476-8080
  • New York (518) 402-8868
  • North Dakota (703) 328-6300
  • Oklahoma (405) 522-8396
  • Pennsylvania (717) 787-5085
  • Saskatchewan Province (306) 787-5140
  • South Dakota (605) 773-3321
  • Texas (512) 389-4701
  • Utah (801) 538-4700
  • Virginia (540) 248-9360
  • West Virginia* (304) 637-0245
  • Wisconsin (877) 947-2293
  • Wyoming (307) 777-4594
  • *CWD has been confirmed in Hampshire and Hardy Counties. Unprocessed deer shot in Hampshire or Hardy Counties cannot be imported into MD.

    Any person who imports or possesses a deer, elk or other cervid carcass or part of a cervid carcass that was tested for CWD in another state or province and is notified that the cervid tested positive, must report the test results to DNR within 24 hours of receiving the notification. The person must notify DNR by calling (301) 842-0332 or faxing (301) 842-1026 or emailing

    Travelers may pass through Maryland with cervid carcasses, provided that no parts are disposed of or remain in the state.

    How can I help?

    You can help by reporting any deer that are emaciated, unhealthy or act abnormally to the MD DNR toll free number 1-(877) 620-8367 (ext. 8540). During hunting seasons, hunters may be asked by biologists for permission to collect brain tissue samples from harvested deer at meat processors.

    For more information, please contact:

    Maryland Department of Natural Resources
    Wildlife and Heritage Service
    Tawes State Office Building, E-1
    Annapolis, MD 21401
    (410) 260-8540
    Toll-free in Maryland: 1-877-620-8DNR, Ext. 8540

    Maryland Department of Natural Resources Wildlife and Heritage Service
    and Fish and Wildlife Health Program


    Photographs and CWD Map provided by
    Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service

    Diseases and Parasites of Maryland Deer