Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a severe and invariably fatal neurological condition that primarily affects cervid species, such as deer, elk, caribou, and moose. It was initially identified in mule deer at a Colorado research facility in 1967. CWD belongs to the transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) family of diseases, which includes notable diseases like Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE or Mad Cow Disease) in cattle, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) in humans, and Scrapie in sheep and goats.

Mechanism of CWD

CWD is characterized by the presence of infectious prions, which are abnormal proteins that induce the misfolding of normal prion proteins in the brain. This misfolding triggers a chain reaction, resulting in the formation of sponge-like holes in the brain tissue.


CWD can spread through both direct and indirect means. Direct transmission occurs through animal-to-animal contact, while indirect transmission can happen via prion-contaminated environments. Infected animals shed infectious prions through their saliva, urine, and feces. Additionally, the carcass of an infected animal can contribute to environmental contamination, allowing the prions to remain infectious for extended periods.

Clinical Progression

Animals infected with CWD may not exhibit clinical signs of the disease for up to 18 to 24 months after infection. During this incubation period, they may appear healthy but remain infectious, contributing to disease spread. In the late stages of CWD, clinical signs become more evident and include lowered head and ears, progressive weight loss, a rough hair coat, excessive salivation, increased thirst and urination, and various behavioral changes, such as stumbling and a lack of fear of humans. However, most animals infected with CWD are more likely to succumb to other causes before reaching this late stage.

CWD poses significant concerns for wildlife management and conservation efforts, as its prevalence can impact cervid populations and ecosystem dynamics. Additionally, there are concerns about potential zoonotic transmission, where CWD could jump to humans, although such cases have been rare and the risk remains a subject of ongoing research.

Why Should You Care About CWD?

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a matter of concern for several reasons:

Impact on Wildlife Populations

CWD is a fatal neurological disease that affects cervid species such as deer, elk, caribou, and moose. Infected animals have a significantly lower survival rate, and over time, CWD can lead to a decline in the populations of these species. This reduction in wildlife populations can have far-reaching consequences for ecosystems and wildlife conservation efforts.

Hunting and Conservation

In regions where hunting is an important part of wildlife management and conservation, CWD poses a substantial threat. A decrease in deer and other cervid populations can limit hunting opportunities and have economic repercussions for communities that rely on hunting-related activities.

Environmental Persistence

CWD prions, the infectious agents responsible for the disease, have been found to persist in the environment. They can be present in soil, water sources, and even plants. This environmental persistence means that CWD can continue to be a threat long after infected animals have been removed.

Potential for Zoonotic Transmission

While there is currently no direct evidence of CWD transmission to humans or livestock, there is ongoing concern about the potential for zoonotic transmission. Research has shown that CWD prions can pass through the digestive tracts of scavengers and predators, plants can absorb CWD prions and remain infectious, soils can retain infectious prions for extended periods, and water sources can become contaminated. Given these factors, limiting exposure to this known pathogen, which has no treatment, vaccine, or cure, is of critical importance, especially for those who regularly encounter deer and consume venison, as hunting is a significant source of mortality for deer in many regions.

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has been found in several counties in Pennsylvania. Here is a list of the counties where CWD has been detected:

  1. Adams County
  2. Bedford County
  3. Blair County
  4. Cambria County
  5. Clearfield County
  6. Cumberland County
  7. Dauphin County
  8. Franklin County
  9. Fulton County
  10. Huntingdon County
  11. Indiana County
  12. Jefferson County
  13. Juniata County
  14. Lancaster County
  15. Lycoming County
  16. Mifflin County
  17. Perry County
  18. Snyder County
  19. Somerset County
  20. Warren County
  21. Westmoreland County

The detection of CWD in these counties has led to the establishment of Disease Management Areas (DMAs) and an Established Area (EA) to manage and contain the disease. For more detailed and up-to-date information on the boundaries of these DMAs and the EA, you can refer to the Pennsylvania Game Commission's website or the provided link for maps.

Pennsylvania Chronic Wasting Disease

CWD Regulations - Dos and Don'ts

Within Disease Management Areas (DMAs) and Established Areas (EAs)

Prohibited Activities:

  1. Feeding of Wild, Free-Ranging Cervids: It is prohibited to provide supplemental feeding for wild cervids within DMAs and EAs.

  2. Use or Possession of Cervid Urine-Based Attractants in an Outdoor Setting: The use or possession of attractants made from cervid urine in outdoor settings is not allowed within these designated areas.

  3. Removal of High-Risk Cervid Parts: High-risk cervid parts cannot be removed from any DMA or EA, including moving them from one DMA to another, unless they are taken directly to a Game Commission approved cooperating processor or taxidermist. You can find a list of cooperators at or

  4. Disposal of High-Risk Parts on the Landscape: It is prohibited to dispose of high-risk cervid parts in the environment away from the location of harvest or kill within DMAs and EAs. Transport of high-risk parts is allowed only if they are taken directly to a Game Commission approved cooperating processor or taxidermist or are disposed of using commercial trash service within the DMA where the deer was harvested.

  5. Rehabilitation of Wild, Free-Ranging Cervids: Rehabilitation of wild cervids is not allowed within DMAs and EAs.

Statewide Regulations

Prohibited Activities:

  1. Importation of High-Risk Cervid Parts: It is prohibited to import high-risk cervid parts from any state or province outside of Pennsylvania, unless these parts are taken directly to a Game Commission approved cooperating processor or taxidermist.
    1. High-risk cervid parts are those that are more likely to carry infectious prions responsible for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). These parts include:

      • The head, which includes the brain, tonsils, eyes, and any lymph nodes.
      • The spinal cord or backbone.
      • The spleen.
      • The skull plate with attached antlers (if visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present).
      • The cape (if visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present).
      • Upper canine teeth (if root structure or other soft tissue is present).
      • Any object or article containing visible brain or spinal cord tissue.
      • Unfinished taxidermy mounts.
      • Brain-tanned hides.

Allowed Activities:

  1. Importation or Transportation of Certain Items: Statewide, it is allowed to import or transport meat with no part of the spinal column or head attached, cleaned hides without the head, skull plates and/or antlers cleaned of all brain tissue, upper canine teeth without soft tissue, or finished taxidermy mounts.

These regulations aim to prevent the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) and help manage and control its impact on cervid populations and the environment. Compliance with these rules is essential to protect wildlife and public health.

CWD DMAP Areas in Pennsylvania

Hunters play a crucial role in the management of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Game Commission has established CWD Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) areas to provide hunters with expanded opportunities to harvest deer and help monitor the presence of CWD in specific regions. These DMAP areas are strategically located around new or high-priority CWD detections.

The objectives of these CWD DMAP units are as follows:

  1. Increase Harvest: The DMAP areas aim to boost deer harvest rates in regions where CWD has been detected or is of high concern. Increased harvest helps manage deer populations and control the spread of the disease.

  2. Enhance Surveillance: Hunters who successfully harvest deer in these areas can submit the heads of their harvested animals for CWD testing. This testing helps wildlife authorities assess the extent of the disease's presence in these specific areas.

For the 2023-24 hunting season, the Pennsylvania Game Commission is offering DMAP permits specifically for CWD DMAP areas. These permits allow hunters to take up to two additional antlerless deer in these designated areas. Permits for CWD DMAP areas will become available for purchase in August.

To find the exact locations of the current CWD DMAP areas and get more information, you can visit the Pennsylvania Game Commission's website or access the information at Hunters are encouraged to participate in these efforts to help manage and monitor CWD in the state.

How to Get Your Deer Tested for CWD

If you are a hunter in Pennsylvania and want to get your deer tested for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), here's how you can do it:

Testing Inside a Disease Management Area (DMA) or Established Area (EA)

  1. Free Testing Offer: The Pennsylvania Game Commission offers free CWD testing to hunters who harvest a deer inside a DMA or EA.

  2. Submission Process: To submit your deer for testing, follow these steps:

    • Place the deer head into a double bag.
    • Complete and firmly affix the harvest tag to the deer's ear.
    • For antlered deer, remove the antlers and/or skull cap before submission.
    • Do not expect to have antlers returned if they are attached to a head submitted for CWD testing.
  3. Head Collection Bins: Deposit your double-bagged deer head into any Game Commission provided head collection bin. Locations of these bins can be found at or by calling the CWD hotline at 1-833-INFOCWD.

  4. Check Test Results: After submitting your deer head, you can check the test results online. Use the QR code provided or go to Click the "CWD Test Results and Surveillance Data" link under "Resources," and enter your hunting license CID number and date of birth. You can also check results by calling the CWD hotline. Results typically take about two to three weeks to be available. If your deer tests positive for CWD, you will be notified by certified letter.

Testing Outside of a DMA or EA

Hunters who harvest a deer outside of a DMA or EA can get their deer tested through the Pennsylvania Animal Diagnostic Laboratory System for a fee. More information on this process is available at

Important Note: The Game Commission conducts random CWD sampling at participating processors throughout the state as part of its continued CWD monitoring program. However, using a processor enrolled in this program does not guarantee that your deer will be tested for CWD. To ensure that a deer is tested for CWD, the head must be deposited into a provided head collection bin within a DMA or EA.

Proper Deer Disposal in Disease Management Areas (DMAs) and Established Areas (EAs)

Hunters who hunt inside a Disease Management Area (DMA) or Established Area (EA) should follow specific guidelines for the proper disposal of high-risk parts to help reduce the risk of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) spread:

  1. Dispose of High-Risk Parts with Commercial Trash Service: Hunters inside a DMA or EA may dispose of high-risk parts with their commercial trash service, but there are important considerations:

    • Parts should be doubled bagged to prevent exposure.
    • Trash should be deposited in a lined landfill.
  2. Use Game Commission-Provided Dumpsters (EA Only): For hunters within an Established Area (EA), there are dumpsters provided by the Game Commission for the disposal of high-risk parts. You can find the locations of these dumpsters at

  3. Leaving High-Risk Parts at the Kill Site (Not Recommended): While not recommended, hunters within a DMA or EA have the option to leave high-risk parts at the location of the kill site. However, it is strongly recommended that all parts disposed of in this manner be buried to prevent scavengers from accessing them.

  4. Cooperating Processors: Some cooperating processors work in partnership with the Game Commission to ensure that high-risk parts left with them are disposed of correctly to minimize the risk of disease spread. Locations of these cooperating processors can be found at

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