CWD is a nervous system disease that is found in members of the deer family (cervids). It causes death in these animals. CWD is much more common in deer, but it is also found in moose and elk.
CWD is part of a group of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). TSEs includes:
CWD occurs in some parts of Alberta, from Cold Lake south to the US border. See the map of locations where CWD has been found in Alberta. It has also been found in wild game (cervids) in Saskatchewan, the United States, Norway, and South Korea.
There is no direct evidence that CWD has ever been transmitted to humans like mad cow disease (as vCJD). However, some research shows that CWD can be transmitted to monkeys closely related to humans by feeding them meat or brain tissue from deer and elk infected with CWD. Because of this, health organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest being careful if you eat meat from animals harvested from areas where CWD has been found.
TSEs like CWD and mad cow disease are caused by infectious proteins called prions (say “PREE-ons”). In CWD, these proteins are found in the brain, spinal cord, lymph nodes, spleen, and muscle tissue.
CWD is thought to spread between animals by:
Alberta Health recommends that any animals from the deer family that are harvested from areas where CWD has been
found should be tested before you eat any parts of the animal. A negative test result does not guarantee that the animal is not infected with CWD, but does make it less likely. Find out more about testing services for CWD.
A number of health organizations continue to gather evidence and check for any potential human health risk of CWD.
Other ways to lower your risk:
Restaurants that sell venison (like deer or elk meat) or other game meat get their meat from a farm. All of these animals are tested and must be shown to be negative for CWD before they are sold. The risk of eating infected meat in restaurant is therefore considered to be very low.
These organizations are tracking and studying CWD. Their websites have the most up-to-date information about this disease.
Current as of: August 12, 2022
Author: Environmental Public Health, Alberta Health Services
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