Chronic Wasting Disease—Research by the U.S. Geological Survey and Partners

Open-File Report 2019-1109
By: , and 



Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is the only transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, a class of invariably fatal neurodegenerative mammalian diseases associated with a misfolded cellular prion protein found in wild free-ranging animals. Because it has a long incubation period, affected animals in Cervidae (the deer family; referred to as “cervids”) may not show signs of disease for several years. While signs are not specific to CWD, affected cervids (deer, elk, moose, and reindeer) show changes in appearance (such as progressive weight loss) and changes in behavior such as stumbling, tremors, and teeth grinding. CWD can be transmitted by direct contact or through a contaminated environment. The causative prion agent is highly resistant to degradation.

In recent decades, CWD has transitioned from a novel, obscure prion disease of cervids with limited geographical distribution, to a disease that poses substantial ecological, agricultural, and economic risks across large regions of North America. Since its discovery in free-ranging elk and deer populations in the western United States in the 1980s, CWD has been reported in captive or free-ranging cervid populations in 26 States, 3 Canadian Provinces, the Republic of South Korea, Finland, Sweden, and Norway. In addition, the proportion of CWD-infected animals is increasing in many areas where the disease is already established. In some heavily affected areas, total cervid numbers have decreased over time due to CWD, which suggests that these cervid populations may not be sustainable in the long-term.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) conducts wildlife disease surveillance and research to support management of CWD-affected species and their habitats. The scientific information is relevant to governmental agencies that manage wildlife and their habitats including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and other Federal, State, and Tribal agencies as well as conservation partners (non-governmental organizations, businesses, and private landowners). Each project description in this report (1–30) includes the non-USGS collaborators (Federal, State, Tribal agencies, universities) and a USGS point of contact (principal investigator). If there are USGS publications associated with the project, a publication list is provided at the end of each project description.

Suggested Citation

Hopkins, M.C., Carlson, C.M., Cross, P.C., Johnson, C.J., Richards, B.J., Russell, R.E., Samuel, M.D., Sargeant, G.A., Walsh, D.P., and Walter, W.D., 2019, Chronic wasting disease—Research by the U.S. Geological Survey and partners (ver. 2.0, November 2019): U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2019–1109, 29 p.,

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • List of Projects Supporting Chronic Wasting Disease Research Goals and Action Items
  • Chronic Wasting Disease Ecology and Epidemiology Studies
  • Chronic Wasting Disease Risk Assessment and Modeling Studies
  • Development of Chronic Wasting Disease Surveillance and Mitigation Tools
  • References Cited
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Chronic wasting disease—Research by the U.S. Geological Survey and partners
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2019-1109
DOI 10.3133/ofr20191109
Edition Version 2.0; November 20, 2019
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Colorado Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, National Wildlife Health Center, Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center, Office of Science Quality and Integrity, Office of the AD Ecosystems
Description viii, 29 p.
Public Comments Report was updated to version 2.0 on 11/20/2019
Country Canada, United States
State Alberta, California, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Ontario, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Saskatchewan, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details