Chronic Wasting Disease

What is Chronic Wasting Disease?

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a fatal infection that affects species in the deer family (cervids) such as mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, moose and caribou. The disease is caused by an abnormal protein called a prion, which can be transmitted through saliva, urine, feces, carcasses and even plants and soil. An infected animal may be contagious for months or years before appearing sick. Signs of infection in deer include weight loss, poor coordination, stumbling and trembling. However, symptoms may take over a year after infection to show. CWD is part of a group of diseases caused by prions which include bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) – commonly known as mad cow disease – in cattle, scrapie in sheep and goats, and Creutzfeldt-Jacob syndrome in humans. There is no direct evidence that CWD can be transmitted to humans however public health experts recommend that any animal suspected or confirmed to have CWD should not be eaten as a precaution. For more information on the human health risk, visit BC Centre for Disease Control - Chronic Wasting Disease.

For the current distribution of CWD in North America see the latest USGS map.

Chronic Wasting Disease has not been detected in B.C.

Why should we care?

CWD is not a naturally occurring disease, it is very difficult and costly to manage and once established, can lead to declines in cervid populations. There is no vaccine or treatment and the disease is always fatal. An infected animal or carcass will shed prions, which are practically impossible to destroy, into the environment where they will persist for several years, possibly decades.

Although its presence has not yet been detected in B.C., CWD has continued to spread in almost all affected jurisdictions despite mitigation and management efforts. In June 2019, the disease was detected in a white-tailed deer in Libby, Montana – very close to the B.C. border. This significantly increases the disease risk to B.C.’s cervid populations and requires a collaborative, coordinated and rapid response.

Learn more about what we are doing about CWD and how you can help.