Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)

Protecting and maintaining a healthy deer population is an important part of Shenandoah's mission.

NPS Image

What is Chronic Wasting Disease?
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a contagious disease of the nervous system that affects deer, elk, and moose. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, there is no evidence that CWD can be transmitted to humans.

How does it affect the deer?
CWD is generally fatal. Infected deer's brains degenerate, causing them to become emaciated, display abnormal behavior, and lose control of bodily functions.

What is the park doing about CWD?
The park has a CWD Response Plan in place. The Response Plan allows for reducing deer densities in some front country areas of the park through lethal removal to manage the disease. Maintaining deer density levels in front country areas at similar levels to those observed in the back country is the primary way to minimize disease transmission and spread.

Why is this occurring?
Chronic wasting disease, a fatal disease of deer, elk, and moose, has been found in white-tailed deer approximately 10 miles from the park’s northernmost point. Spread of this disease into the park appears imminent. Additionally, CWD is a nonnative disease in the Eastern U.S. and therefore the Park is mandated to reduce the impacts of the disease if prudent and feasible. Research suggests that CWD could substantially harm infected deer populations by lowering adult survival rates and destabilizing long-term populations. In addition, white-tailed deer are an important part of the visitor experience and the Park is very concerned with potential impacts to its deer population and other natural resources.

When will this occur?
Once certain conditions are met such as proximity of CWD to the Park, the Park may implement disease management/response plan actions. These actions, such as the lethal removal of deer are contingent on funding availability. If you have more detailed questions, please call the park at 540 999-3500 x3397.

Where will deer removals occur?
Response Plan removal actions will focus on reducing high deer densities in key front country areas to approximately match backcountry densities. Front country areas have higher deer densities and are therefore at greater risk of CWD amplification and spread than the rest of the park. Having more consistent densities across the park reduces the disease risk. All removal work would be contingent on funding availability.

What are the potential impacts to visitors?
Lethal removal activities would likely occur at night, from November-March, during periods when Skyline Drive or nearby facilities are closed. Park staff and authorized agents will follow strict protocols and safety procedures during lethal removal operations. Safety measures will be in place to greatly minimize risk to visitors and staff.

What have we learned so far?
In the region surrounding the West Virginia/Virginia border near Gore, Virginia, CWD has become established and has spread in recent years. As of March 2019, 66 deer have tested positive in Frederick and Shenandoah Counties in Virginia. To date, the closest CWD-positive case was found approximately 10 miles from the park (near Strasburg, VA). CWD represents a threat to white-tailed deer, and the park's proximity to known positive CWD cases represents a significant risk factor for disease introduction. Additionally, the density of white-tailed deer populations in specific areas of the park is high, as is the amount of deer movement in and out of the park, which increases the risk of CWD introduction, amplification and spread.

More about Chronic Wasting Disease
CWD is a progressive neurological disease of deer, elk, and moose. CWD belongs to a family of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE's). CWD causes a spongy degeneration in the brain of infected animals, resulting in emaciation, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions, and ultimately death. Clinical signs (e.g. staggering, lowered head/ears, lack of fear, drooling) only appear in the late stages of this disease. At the present time, there is no known cure for the disease, and many aspects of the disease are still unknown. In the eastern US, CWD is considered a nonnative disease.

What causes CWD?
The disease agents are abnormally-shaped proteins, called prions, found primarily in nervous system and lymph tissues. The prion "infects" the host animal (deer) by converting a normal protein into an abnormal protein. Unlike bacteria or viruses, prions do not cause an immune response in the infected animal. Prions are resistant to enzymes and chemicals that normally break down proteins.

How is CWD spread?
It is believed that CWD prions are spread both directly (deer-to-deer contact) and indirectly (ie. via soil/standing water). Prions are likely shed through the saliva, feces, and urine of deer. Disease incubation can be several years without clinical signs. Prions can remain infectious in the soil for many years.

Where has CWD been found?
As of February, 2019, CWD has been found in 24 states and two Canadian provinces.

For more information on Virginia CWD Management efforts please see

How to report a sick or emaciated deer suspected of having CWD
Please call the park’s information line and leave a message at 540 999-3500 x3397. Please provide very specific location information in your message.

Last updated: September 30, 2019

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

Shenandoah National Park
3655 U.S. Highway 211 East

Luray, VA 22835


540 999-3500
Emergency Phone: 1-800-732-0911

Contact Us