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Introduction and General Information

Education and communication are key for disease control (B127.15.w15). Decision makers at all levels (including the general public) should be provided with information about CWD and be kept aware of the current situation, the control options being used and proposed, and the science behind the choice of control options. (D117, D114.V.w5)

  • Goal 1: Increase awareness of Federal and State CWD efforts.
  • Goal 2: Educate target audiences about CWD.
  • Goal 3: Provide accepted and updated scientific information.
  • Goal 4: Provide updates on advances in CWD management and control.
  • Goal 5: Provide scientific and technical training information to State, Federal, and Tribal employees on CWD management and surveillance methods.

(D110 - Plan for Assisting States, Federal Agencies, and Tribes in Managing Chronic Wasting Disease in Wild and Captive Cervids - Text copied Directly)

Target audiences include:

  • Media; (D110, D119)
  • State and Federal agencies (e.g. wildlife, conservation, land management, agriculture, forestry and natural resources agencies); D110)
  • Consumptive and non-consumptive users of wildlife; (D110)
  • Businesses associated with the consumptive and non-consumptive use of wildlife; (D110)
  • Captive cervid industry; (D110)
  • Scientific community; (D110)
  • General public; (D110, D114.V.w5, D119)
  • State and local officials, policy makers/legislators, tribes and communities; (D110, D119, W413.26Mar03.CWD4)
  • Landowners within CWD-positive areas; (D114.V.w5)
  • Hunters; (D114.V.w5)
  • Taxidermists; (D114.V.w5)
  • Meat processors; (W414.10Apr03.CWD1)
  • Personnel of departments responsible for CWD management; (D114.V.w5)
  • Personnel (e.g. biologists, veterinarians) involved in CWD surveillance and management operations; (D114.V.w5)
  • Farmers; (W413.26Mar03.CWD4)
  • Outdoor enthusiasts and wildlife watchers. (W413.26Mar03.CWD4)

(D110, D114.V.w5, D119, D121, D124, W413.26Mar03.CWD4)

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Education of Health (Medical and Veterinary) Personnel and Biologists
Veterinary and medical personnel play a role in providing information on animal disease and public health issues to their clients/patients. They require accurate, scientifically based information if they are to provide accurate information for members of the public.

Both veterinary and medical personnel need to be provided with information regarding CWD and human health; veterinarians additionally need to be provided with information regarding CWD and the health of non-cervid animal species.

Veterinarians play an important role in general detection of diseases in animals. Veterinarians need to:

  • Be aware of CWD;
  • Know that CWD, BSE and scrapie are reportable diseases.
  • Know which clinical signs are compatible with a diagnosis of CWD;
  • Know where the disease is known to be present currently;
  • Understand that CWD may be present in areas in which it has not yet been diagnosed;
  • Know which organisations in their State should be contacted in the event that they have detected a possible case of CWD;
  • Know which laboratories samples should be sent to, how to collect samples, packaging requirements and accompanying data required. 

Veterinary personnel and biologists directly involved in CWD surveillance and/or control operations require specific education and training on:

  • Taking samples from deer and elk for diagnosis of CWD;
  • Preservation and packaging of samples for CWD diagnosis;
  • Labelling of specimens and accompanying data required;
  • Which laboratories specific samples should be sent to;
  • Health and safety aspects of CWD and its management.

In zoos, veterinary/medical staff should make efforts to educate staff members about the TSEs and about ways in which the risk of disease introduction can be minimised, the zoonotic potential of TSEs and monitoring programs. (J2.34.w1)

(J2.34.w1, D114.V.w5, D118, D124, V.w5)

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Click for Video: Bird Necropsy Protocol for West Nile Virus Surveillance Video Available: Necropsy of Wild Ungulates:
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Communication and Data Sharing for Professionals and their Organisations

Frequent communication between state and federal agencies is important to maximise coordination of management actions. (D126)

  • "Sharing research results and coordination among federal and state agencies is important in management of a disease that does not respect jurisdictional boundaries." (D114.IV.w4)
  • Technical findings should be published in peer-reviewed journals and agency reports. (D121, D124)
  • All staff involved with CWD issues, either directly or indirectly, should be adequately informed and trained regarding CWD. (D126)
  • Information should be shared between agencies responsible for free-living cervids and those responsible for captive cervids. (D123)

Audiences include:

  • Personnel of departments in State and Federal agencies responsible for CWD management (e.g. wildlife, conservation, land management, agriculture, forestry and natural resources agencies);
  • Scientific community;
  • State and local officials, policy makers;
  • Personnel (e.g. biologists, veterinarians) involved in CWD surveillance and management operations. 
(D110, D123, D114.V.w5, D146)

The Plan for Assisting States, Federal Agencies, and Tribes in Managing Chronic Wasting Disease in Wild and Captive Cervids (D110) suggests the following for dissemination of scientific and technical information (text copied directly):

B. Scientific and Technical Information Dissemination

1. Overview

Management and dissemination of scientific and technical information is critical to States, Federal agencies, Tribes, and other groups involved in CWD issues. Although these entities will collect important data for their own use, there will be significant opportunities for resource sharing as well as assistance for data management and transfer, allowing analyses to be conducted on a nationwide basis. This Information Plan provides for the creation of uniform standards for data collection and transfer that will facilitate these activities. The availability of one system rather than multiple systems that may not be compatible with each other will allow economies of scale for the proposed activities to be undertaken at a national level. States that have not yet incurred expenses in developing a local system will be provided with internet-based applications, and States with pre-existing systems will also receive assistance. Further, data and information from all parties will be handled to assure appropriate intellectual property rights and confidentiality.

The U.S. Geological Survey’s NBII will be used to accomplish the efforts outlined in this plan. The NBII is an electronic information network that provides timely and effective access to biological data and information on the nation’s plants, animals, and ecosystems through "Nodes," which can be used for scientific activities, education, and informed decision-making. Since NBII technical and informational infrastructures are already in place, the new NBII Wildlife Disease Information Node (WDIN) can serve as an effective mechanism for providing access to Internet-based CWD information. Although the WDIN was initially established as a prototype to focus on CWD data from Wisconsin collaborators and the National Wildlife Health Center located in Wisconsin, this Node will be expanded to meet the needs of this plan. Most data will be provided by the States; this Node will explicitly support State managers in addressing CWD data needs. The Node will also provide links to other available CWD databases and allow "one stop shopping" for technical information, including geospatial information, research, monitoring, and surveillance results. This will allow State and Federal agencies, Tribes, and the public to obtain near real-time data on CWD. The target audience and message are identical to those of the Communications Plan.

2. Goals

To define strategies for dealing with CWD by: 

  • Goal 1: Providing access to common scientific and technical information in a partner-based data system;

  • Goal 2: Integrating CWD data from State and Federal agencies, Tribal and land managers, and other sources into the WDIN;

  • Goal 3: Working with States to create data standards that will allow interoperability with existing CWD data sets and provide confidentiality of data to data providers as needed;

  • Goal 4: Providing wildlife managers and veterinarians with near real-time access to CWD data and other critical information, including available test results, Geographic Information System (GIS) analyses of CWD patterns, and predicting areas of potential risk;

  • Goal 5: Providing a database system that can be used by all agencies for their own local use, but also as a central repository for nationwide analyses.

3. Actions

A repository for data will be collected through State and Federal agency CWD research, monitoring, and surveillance programs so that analyses can be conducted on a nationwide basis. Users will benefit from an integrated information system on all aspects of CWD and other relevant TSE information for CWD, including biology, diagnosis, and control issues. In all activities, priority will be given to the transfer of information resources and funding to create an integrated CWD data system.

Action Item 1 - Data Storage

  • Establish a robust database that can accommodate testing results as well as research, monitoring, and surveillance data from State and Federal agencies;

  • Develop a data import system to allow State and Federal agencies to enter their current and archival data;

  • Develop data collection and management standards in cooperation with State and Federal agencies;

  • Develop a certification and quality control system;

  • Provide to States a system for tracking CWD samples from collection through laboratory testing.

Action Item 2 - Integrated Information System

  • Conduct a thorough literature review focusing on CWD;

  • Assemble information on biology and management of wildlife species at risk for developing CWD;

  • Collect and assemble State, USDA, and other wild and captive herd data and make it Web accessible;

  • Create a Web based system that will integrate information collected above;

  • Catalog and provide Internet links to other Federal, State, and non-government organization CWD information resources, including scientific libraries.

Action Item 3 - Long-term Activities

  • Maintain databases and services described above;

  • Integrate all available State and other data into the NBII WDIN.}

(D110 - Plan for Assisting States, Federal Agencies, and Tribes in Managing Chronic Wasting Disease in Wild and Captive Cervids - Text copied Directly)

See National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII) -

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Public Education: Target Audiences

Target audiences include all members of the general public and particularly:

  • Media; 
  • Hunters;
  • Meat processors;
  • Taxidermists;
  • Non-consumptive users of wildlife; 
  • Businesses associated with the consumptive and non-consumptive use of wildlife; 
  • Captive cervid farmers; 
  • Tribes and communities;
  • Landowners within CWD-positive areas;
  • Politicians.

(D110, D114.V.w5, D117, D119, D121, D126, D146)

Special education programs may be required in order to reach and educate particular groups that are at greater potential risk than the general public (B127.15.w15). For CWD this would include deer and elk hunters, meat processors and taxidermists. 

The target audiences for these activities include the following, in impacted or potentially impacted jurisdictions, and eventually in all States with active surveillance:

  • Media;

  • State and Federal cooperators such as wildlife, conservation, land management, agriculture, forestry, and natural resource agencies;

  • Consumptive and non-consumptive users of wildlife and associated businesses;

  • Captive cervid industry; scientific community, general public; and

  • State and local officials, policy makers, Tribes, and communities.

The principle message of this communications campaign is that all concerned entities are working together to coordinate efforts to control and manage CWD in free-ranging and captive populations of cervids and where possible to eradicate the disease or prevent its spread.

(D110 - Plan for Assisting States, Federal Agencies, and Tribes in Managing Chronic Wasting Disease in Wild and Captive Cervids - Text copied Directly)


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Public Education: Means of Communication
A wide variety of methods can and should be used to provide information to members of the public. 
  • It is important to remember that different segments of the population may rely on different media for acquiring information. 
  • Appropriate methods include
    • News releases (in print media, to radio and television stations and on the Internet);
    • Responses to telephone enquiries;
    • Interviews with reporters and writers for print media, radio and television stations;
    • Stories/informational programmes on radio and television;
    • Guest editorials in newspapers;
    • Presentation of information on Websites (with appropriate updates);
    • Distribution of pamphlets/booklets/fact sheets;
    • Videos;
    • Public meetings.

(D114.V.w5, D119, D121, D123, D126)

Targeted information for particular groups such as landowners in CWD areas, hunters, taxidermists and game meat processors may additionally be sent by letter to these individuals.

The following text is taken directly from D110 - Plan for Assisting States, Federal Agencies, and Tribes in Managing Chronic Wasting Disease in Wild and Captive Cervids:

Action Item 1 – Production of Materials: Fact sheets on general CWD disease information, CWD funding, and Federal, State, and Tribal actions to address CWD will be updated and expanded to include information from all reliable sources. Other relevant fact sheet topics will be developed (including fact sheets on individual State programs and responses for CWD) as needed.

Action Item 2 – Events and Distribution of Information: Working in concert with States, radio and public service announcements will be distributed to all affected States and Tribes with copies to all cooperators. Also provided are program management and training videos, and disease identification field guides. Information packets will be prepared and mailed to all agriculture extension agents and State Departments of Agriculture and Natural Resources agencies. 

(D110 - Plan for Assisting States, Federal Agencies, and Tribes in Managing Chronic Wasting Disease in Wild and Captive Cervids - Text copied Directly)


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Public Education: Timelines and Purposes of Messages

Public education is an important component of disease management in free-living animals. Support for a disease management program, and compliance with particular components of the program that impact their activities, is much more likely if the public has been informed regarding the planned management activities and understands why they are necessary. (B127.15.w15)

  • Public opposition to a CWD management plan may potentially represent a serious obstacle to its successful implementation. As well as appropriate risk communication, efforts should be made to engage interested parties such as hunters and landowners in the areas of disease management in order to encourage their support and assistance with the management plan. (D146)

Public communication and education is about communication of risk; this involves exchange of information and opinions about a specific risk; for CWD the process must consider the real or perceived health risks to cervids and humans from CWD and the secondary risks, either directly from the disease or from its management, to economic, aesthetic, cultural and environmental values." (D146)

Information for the general public should include:

  • General information about CWD, the species it affects, the clinical signs and the effects the disease may have on affected populations;
  • Potential health risks, if any, to humans and domestic animals;
  • The distribution of CWD both locally and more generally;
  • Actions (management and research) being taken by State, Federal and Tribal agencies to address CWD;
  • CWD funding;
  • Details of further sources of reliable information.

All information provided should be backed up with the available scientific evidence.

Uncertainties that exist due to present gaps in scientific knowledge should be acknowledged.

In areas where feeding has been banned or is being discouraged it may be necessary to provide extra information to persons who would normally feed deer, to educate them regarding the reasons why feeding should not be carried out.

(D109.w7, D110, D114.III.w3, D123, D124, D146)

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Public Education: Recommendations & Precautions for Hunters

It is essential that hunters of deer and elk, particularly those hunting in areas in which CWD is known to be present, are properly informed about CWD so that they may make an informed decision regarding whether and where they choose to hunt and what precautions they wish to take to reduce any potential health risk from CWD-infected deer. (D114.V.w5, D117)

Specific means by which information may be disseminated to hunters includes:

  • Information sent to hunters on application for a license;
  • Media press releases and interviews, including local radio spots and discussions;
  • Provision of information in relevant state agency magazines and newspapers;
  • Postings on the Internet;
  • Individual letters to successful applicants for deer and elk hunting licenses (particularly for those hunting in CWD-positive areas);
  • Videos shown to hunters at expositions;
  • Individual contacts with hunters who have harvested CWD-positive animals.
(D114.V.w5, D126, W27.18Jan01.cwd1, W402.24Mar03.CWD4)

Information which should be provided to hunters includes:

Precautionary public health guidelines:
  • In general, hunters are advised not to shoot animals which appear to be ill are acting abnormally.
  • Where carcasses are being tested for CWD hunters are being advised not to consume any animal which has tested positive for CWD.
  • General information on the potential human health risks and recommendations related to CWD and consumption of venison.
    • A World Health Organization Report (WHO Consultation on Public Health and Animal Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies: Epidemiology, Risk and Research Requirements) noted that "there is currently no evidence that CWD in Cervidae is transmitted to humans" but recommended that "no part or product of any animal with evidence of CWD or other TSEs should be fed to any species (human, or any domestic or captive animal)." (W244.09Apr2002.CWD1)
  • Precautions recommended during field-dressing and butchering of deer and elk, including methods for disposal of non-edible materials and disinfection of implements used.

Information about availability and logistics of testing animals:

  • Information about surveillance operations in a given hunting area, any requirements to participate in such surveillance operations, and where carcasses should be taken for sampling.
  • Where surveillance is in operation, and the hunter presenting a carcass for sampling has provided adequate and legible contact information, information on whether their individual deer or elk has tested positive for CWD.
  • Where hunted deer or elk will not be part of a surveillance operation, information about the availability, logistics and cost of getting their elk or deer tested, particularly in areas where CWD is known to exist.
  • Hunters must also be informed about any regulations or recommendations regarding transport of deer and elk carcasses.
    • It is important to remember that details of regulations or recommendations for carcass transport and disposal of inedible portions of the carcass may vary between States and any hunter must contact the relevant state wildlife agency regarding the recommendations and regulations for the State in which they are hunting and, if different, the State to which they will be transporting the carcass or parts of the carcass.

(D114.V.w5, D126)

Information specifically relevant to hunters is available on the following pages:

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Public Education: FAQs
What is Chronic Wasting Disease?

What are the clinical signs of Chronic Wasting Disease?

Which species are affected by CWD?

Can Humans get CWD?

Can domestic livestock get CWD?

Where did CWD come from?

  • We do not know where this disease came from. It was first seen in captive deer in wildlife research facilities in Colorado and was later recognised in wild cervids in Colorado and Wyoming.
  • We do not know whether the disease first occurred in captive animals and was transmitted to free-living cervids or started in free-living cervids and was introduced to captive facilities.
    • "It appears most plausible that CWD in free-ranging deer and elk first arose somewhere in north-central Colorado or southeastern Wyoming" (J40.66.w1)
  • See: CWD Literature Reports: Aetiology (Disease Reports), Prion Protein Literature Reports: Distribution and Geographical Occurrence (Chemical Reports)
  • It is possible, although not proven, that CWD arose as a spontaneous encephalopathy (a new disease) in deer or elk and happened to be transmissible. Spontaneous encephalopathy diseases are known to occur in humans (e.g. sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease) but are not known to occur in other species. However it would be extremely difficult to detect occasional cases of spontaneous encephalopathy in animals.
  • It is possible, although not proven, that CWD developed from the sheep (and goat) disease scrapie, a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy which has been known to exist for centuries. Tests to date have shown that the agent causing CWD is different from tested strains of scrapie, however many strains of scrapie exist and not all have been tested in this way.
  • See: Prion Protein Literature Reports: Subtypes (Chemical Reports)

Is CWD a new disease?

Where does CWD occur now?

  • In free-ranging populations of deer and elk, CWD has been found in the states of Colorado, Illinois, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming within the USA and in the province of Saskatchewan in Canada. It has not been diagnosed in any free-ranging cervids outside North America.
  • In captivity, CWD has been diagnosed in the states of Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Wisconsin, New Mexico, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Montana, Kansas within the USA, in the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada and in South Korea in animals which had been imported from Saskatchewan.
  • SEE: Prion Protein Literature Reports: Distribution and Geographical Occurrence (Chemical Reports)

What causes CWD?

How is CWD spread?

Can the infectious agent be destroyed?

What preventative measures should hunters take?

  • Although there is no proof that CWD can be transmitted to humans, hunters should take some common-sense precautions to minimise the risk of their being exposed to the agent that causes CWD, or to other disease agents. These include:
    • Not harvesting any animal that appears to be unwell or acting abnormally;
    • Wearing latex/rubber gloves when field dressing/preparing the carcass;
    • Minimising exposure to parts of the carcass (nervous tissues and lymph nodes) which are most likely to contain the CWD agent and disposing of these tissues appropriately;
    • Keeping particular knives and saws for preparing the carcass and disinfecting these properly after use.
    • Where testing is available for cervids harvested within CWD-affected areas, submitting the head for testing and keeping the meat frozen until the results of the test are known.
  • SEE: 

How is CWD diagnosed?

What does it mean if an animal has been tested and found to be IHC negative ?

Can the IHC test for CWD be used to tell if a deer or elk is safe for human consumption?

Is the meat from deer and elk safe to eat?

  • As always, it is recommended that meat is not eaten from any animal that appears to be sick or at all unwell when it is killed.
  • CWD is not known to be transmissible to humans, however it is not possible to say with certainty that it is not transmissible. 
  • At the present time it is recommended that meat is not eaten from any animal known to be CWD-positive.
    • If your deer/elk is tested as part of CWD surveillance it is recommended that the meat is frozen until the results of the test are known.
  • Anyone hunting in an area in which CWD is known to occur is recommended to take certain common-sense precautions, to avoid eating those parts of the animal in which the infective agent is most likely to accumulate.
    • It is recommended that anyone hunting in a CWD area bones out the meat.
    • In particular it is recommended that the brain, eyes, spinal cord, lymph nodes, tonsils and spleen are not eaten and are handled as little as possible.
  • SEE: 

Can't we vaccinate deer and elk to stop them from getting CWD?

If we leave them alone, won't the deer and elk become resistant to CWD?

Why don't we breed deer or elk to be resistant to CWD?

Why is there concern about CWD? Why is it important to control this disease?

Where can I learn more about CWD?

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Further research

For effective education, communication and cooperation with the management of CWD it will be necessary  including:
  • Determining the attitudes, perceptions of risk, and information needs of affected human communities; 
  • Determine landowner and hunter willingness to participate in disease management programs; 
  • Assess communication and education strategies.


N.B. Results of research must be distributed effectively if they are to be of benefit to agencies responsible for disease management.

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Authors & Referees

Authors Dr Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)
Referee Suzanne I Boardman BVMS MRCVS (V.w6), Chris Brand (V.w52), Dr Terry Kreeger (V.w49), Dr Julie Langenberg (V.w50), Bruce Morrison (V.w48), Michael Samuel (V.w53), Scott Wright (V.w54)

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