Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a contagious neurological disease affecting deer, elk and moose. It causes a characteristic spongy degeneration of the brains of infected animals resulting in emaciation, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions and death.
Example of Effects of Chronic Wasting Disease, Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife
Only four species of the deer family are known to be naturally susceptible to CWD: elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer and moose. Susceptibility of other members of the deer family (cervids) and other wildlife species is not entirely known, although ongoing research is further exploring this question.
Though many observers try to compare CWD with "mad cow disease", the diseases are distinctly different. Currently, there is no evidence that CWD poses a risk for humans; however, public health officials recommend that human exposure to the CWD infectious agent be avoided as they continue to evaluate any potential health risk.The World Health Organization has reviewed available scientific information and concluded that currently there is no evidence that CWD can be transmitted to humans. Nonetheless, health and wildlife officials advise caution. Hunters are encouraged NOT to consume meat from animals known to be infected. In addition, hunters should take common sense precautions when field dressing and processing deer or elk taken in areas where CWD is found.
Do NOT shoot, handle or consume an elk or deer that is acting abnormally or appears to be sick. When field-dressing game, wear rubber gloves and minimize the use of a bone saw to cut through the brain or spinal cord (backbone). Bone out the meat. Minimize contact with and do not consume brain or spinal cord tissues, eyes, spleen, or lymph nodes. Always wash hands thoroughly after dressing and processing game meat.
Hunters are recommended to NOT eat meat from animals known to be infected with CWD. Hunters in CWD areas are also advised to bone out their meat and to not consume those parts where prions likely accumulate.In the absence of complete information on risk, and in light of similarities of animal and human TSEs, public health officials and wildlife management professionals recommend that hunters harvesting deer and elk in the endemic area, as well as meat processors and taxidermists handling cervid carcasses, should take some common sense measures to avoid exposure to the CWD agent and to other known zoonotic pathogens.