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Chronic Wasting Disease

The DNR actively monitors diseases affecting deer in the state.

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a neurological disease affecting primarily deer and elk. An abnormal protein, called a prion, attacks the brains of infected animals causing them to lose weight, display abnormal behavior and lose bodily functions. Signs of CWD in deer include excessive salivation, thirst and urination, loss of appetite, weight loss, listlessness and drooping ears and head. It is always fatal to the infected animal. Anyone seeing a deer exhibiting these symptoms should immediately contact the DNR.

It is important to know that CWD is spread by direct and indirect contact as the prions are shed in the bodily fluids of infected animals and can remain infectious in the environment for yearsThe only reliable test for CWD requires testing of lymph nodes or brain material.

Testing for the CWD protein is not a food safety test. Currently it is not believed that humans can contract CWD by eating venison; however, the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization recommend hunters avoid eating meat, brain, eyeballs, or spinal cord of infected deer, and that hunters wear protective gloves while field dressing game.

Under Iowa law, hunters cannot transport into the state the whole carcass of any cervid (i.e., deer, elk, moose) taken from a CWD-infected area. Only the boned-out meat, the cape, and antlers attached to a clean skull plate (from which all brain tissue has been removed) are legal to transport into Iowa. 

History of CWD

CWD was first discovered in northeastern Colorado in 1967. Since then, CWD has been detected in free-ranging populations in 20 states including Iowa and Wisconsin, and in Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada. It has been detected in captive facilities in Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wisconsin and 10 other states, as well as Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada.

Iowa has tested more than 57,000 wild deer and more than 3,500 captive deer and elk as part of CWD surveillance efforts since 2002. Samples are collected from all 99 counties in Iowa; however, the majority have been taken in the counties nearest to areas where CWD has been detected in other states. Samples are collected voluntarily from hunter-harvested deer at check stations and meat lockers.

The DNR is keeping a close eye on the deer population as the disease spreads across the Midwest. "What we are doing is an important part of the national CWD surveillance and monitoring effort," said Dr. Dale Garner, bureau chief for the wildlife bureau. "It is needed to give us a good picture of what is going on within the deer population."

Chronic Wasting Disease Response Plan
(Iowa DNR and Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship)

CWD Cases in Iowa: Allamakee and Davis Counties

In April 2014, the DNR was notified that a deer harvested south of Harpers Ferry in Yellow River State Forest during the 2013 regular gun season tested positive for CWD. This was the first known case of CWD in a wild deer in the state. In January 2015 three more CWD positives were reported for deer harvested in 2014 from Allamakee County. The DNR is implementing a special CWD surveillance plan in Allamakee County while continuing to implement its existing CWD testing protocols statewide.  

As a result of public meetings on February 17, 2015 in Harper’s Ferry and Waukon, the DNR and local constituents agreed to begin an intensive sample collection effort in the surveillance area, defined as the sections adjacent to, and including, the sections where the four positive animals were found. The goal of this intensive surveillance is to provide more information on the extent and prevalence of CWD in this area. This information will then be used to guide decisions for future surveillance efforts and hunting seasons. Additional deer will be collected beginning on February 21 until March 15th OR when an additional 200 samples are obtained. The samples will bring the total number collected in the intensive surveillance area to 300, which will provide a better understanding of the extent and prevalence of CWD in this area. Only adult deer will be sampled. Cooperators will be issued permits to collect deer in the intensive surveillance area only through local DNR wildlife staff.

CWD Frequently Asked Questions
General Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) information

Allamakee CWD Surveillance Area Map

In 2012, three deer tested positive for CWD on a shooting preserve among captive deer in Davis County. This was the first time CWD was discovered in the state. These positives were confirmed by the National Veterinary Services Lab in Ames, Iowa. Below are the Emergency Order, the Emergency Consent Order, and the Final Decision of the Natural Resource Commission related to the discovery of CWD-positive deer at the preserve. On Feb. 13th, an Iowa District Court Judge ruled that the Natural Resources Commission and Department of Natural Resources do not have authority under current Iowa law to impose a quarantine on the land and compel the owners to maintain fencing around the former hunting preserve. That ruling is available on a link below. The Natural Resources Commission has voted unanimously to appeal the district court ruling and the Iowa Attorney General’s Office has filed a motion to stay the ruling until the requested judicial review can take place.

Epizootic Hemorrghagic Disease  

Epizootic Hemorrghagic Disease (EHD), is a disease spread by a biting midge that causes high fever in infected deer and also causes the cell walls in their heart, lungs and diaphragm to weaken and burst. In dry, drought years it can be worse as deer are more concentrated around water. The deer are attracted to water to combat the fever and dehydration due to the hemorrhaging. Most deer die one to four days after being infected with EHD. 

EHD was widely reported in 2012 and 2013 in eastern and southern Iowa, but no reports were received in 2014. Some losses due to EHD generally occur every year, but usually at low levels and in localized areas. It is important to know that deer being affected by EHD will be temporary. EHD will only remain active until rain disperses the deer by providing more watering areas or a heavy frost kills the midges.

For the latest updates/maps available on EHD and CWD: