Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Chronic Wasting Disease

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) affects cervids (elk, moose, mule deer, and white-tailed deer) throughout the U.S. CWD affects the nervous system in these animals and creates distinctive brain lesions. At this time, we have no treatment for CWD and it is fatal to the animals who contract it.

A bull elk in Wind Cave National Park with late-stage CWD.
A bull elk in Wind Cave National Park with late-stage chronic wasting disease (CWD).  NPS image. (Public domain.)

CWD is caused by an infectious, irregular form of cellular prion protein. CWD can be directly and indirectly transmitted through the contact with saliva, urine, feces, and infected carcasses, or CWD contaminated environmental surfaces.

USGS scientists are studying CWD to determine how the disease is transmitted, whether sex and/or age of the animal play a role in infection, and whether a genetic resistance is present in some animals.


Frequently Asked Questions about CWD

What are the visual signs of chronic wasting disease?

What causes chronic wasting disease?

What is chronic wasting disease?