Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is usually found in captive populations of deer and elk in the western states, but it has been found in states east of the Mississippi River in the last ten years. Presently, there are no cases reported in Alabama. The disease is caused by an infectious agent called a prion. Think of a prion as a “rogue protein” that causes other proteins to malfunction and wreak anatomical havoc. In CWD, the prions cause neurological and brain damage in cervids (elk, deer, and their relatives). The disease symptoms are weight loss, lethargy, confused or repetitive behaviors, excessive drooling and drinking.
We do not know how the disease is transmitted, although it is suspected that it may happen via the soil or vegetation where the diseased animals forage. Free-ranging deer and elk may contract the disease, but it is rare, and only happens in areas where population density is high or captive populations are present. The disease is not known to be contracted by humans.