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CWD Info & Testing
CWD Info & Testing
Elk Feeding

​​​​​​​​​What is chronic wasting disease?

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a fatal neurological disease found in deer, elk and moose. It belongs to a family of diseases caused by prions (misfolded protein). This particular prion disease attacks the brains of infected deer, elk and moose, causing the animals to display abnormal behavior, become incoordinated and emaciated, and eventually die.

Where is this disease found?

Chronic wasting disease occurs in free-ranging and captive cervids (members of the “deer” family) in several parts of North America, including Colorado. For the most current information on distribution see our Big Game Hunting brochure. For relative rates of infection by Game Management Unit in Colorado, see the following maps.

Similar Diseases

Chronic wasting disease belongs to the family of prion diseases, also known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. Within this family of diseases, there are three that affect cloven-hoofed animals: scrapie in domestic sheep and goats, which has been recognized for more than 200 years; bovine spongiform encephalopathy in cattle (sometimes referred to as "Mad Cow Disease"); and chronic wasting disease in deer, elk and moose. There also are two main forms of prion disease that affect humans: Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, which occurs naturally in about one out of every one million people in Colorado and elsewhere around the world; and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, which has been linked to human exposure to the large-scale outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in cattle herds in Great Britain and Europe (http://www.cjd.ed.ac.uk/​).

Public Health Issues

To date, ongoing investigations by state and federal public health officials have reported no causal relationship between CWD and human health problems. For more information see CWD and Potential Transmission to Humans​.

However, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the CPW advise hunters to take simple precautions (as listed BELOW) when handling deer, elk, or moose carcasses in units where CWD is known to occur. Hunters with concerns about harvesting or consuming an infected animal may choose to submit samples for testing as described below.

Simple Precautions Advised

  • ​Do not shoot, handle or consume any animal that appears sick; contact a Colorado Parks and Wildlife office if you see or harvest an animal that appears sick.

  • Wear rubber gloves when field dressing and processing animals.

  • Bone out the meat from your animal, and minimize handling of brain and spinal tissues.

  • Wash hands and instruments thoroughly after field dressing is completed.

  • Avoid consuming brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils, pancreas and lymph nodes of harvested animals. Normal field dressing, coupled with boning out a carcass, will remove most, if not all, of these body parts. Cutting away all fatty tissue will remove remaining lymph nodes.

  • Do not consume meat or organs from animals known to be infected with CWD.

  • Knives, saws and cutting table surfaces can be disinfected by soaking in a solution of 50 percent unscented household bleach and 50 percent water for an hour. Thoroughly rinse all utensils in water to remove the bleach. Afterward, allow them to air dry.

What portions of deer, elk, and moose should be consumed?

Strong evidence suggests that abnormal proteins, called prions, cause chronic wasting disease in deer and elk. Research indicates that the prions naturally accumulate in certain parts of infected animals -- the brain, eyes, spinal cord, lymph nodes, tonsils, pancreas and spleen - relatively early in the course of disease, well before the animal is visibly ill. However, abnormal prions also can accumulate in a wider variety of tissues and organs, including kidney, lung, heart, and muscle.

Chronic Wasting Disease Testing

Hunters can access test results online using the Test Results Database, or by calling their local Area Office or CPW Customer Service at (303) 297-1192. Please have your head submission number ready.

For the most recent year's information on guidelines, submission sites, locations and schedules,  see Submission Site Information.

Research

Colorado Parks and Wildlife researchers and biologists have studied chronic wasting disease on numerous fronts - addressing wildlife health issues and assisting public health experts and scientists with their ongoing research. Colorado Parks and Wildlife personnel’s work and expertise on this disease is recognized both nationally and internationally.

To access some of the scientific publications on chronic wasting disease, see CWD Research Articles.​

Chronic Wasting Disease Management

The Colorado Park and Wildlife’s disease management efforts are focused on:

  • ​Preventing the spread of chronic wasting disease beyond historically infected areas.

  • Reducing chronic wasting disease prevalence within infected areas by ​removing deer and elk from some affected herds.

  • Enforcing illegal feeding regulations and transport laws restricting the movement of deer, elk and moose from infected areas or into the state.

  • Continuing research in conjunction with other agencies and states to further knowledge to manage affected deer, elk and moose herds.​