AFN TECHNICAL BULLETIN – Chronic Wasting Disease

Published: Oct 01, 2019Bulletin


The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) is providing this Bulletin to all First Nations to share some important information on an environmental health issue that is affecting deer, elk, moose and caribou. Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a fatal neurological disease that affects species in the deer family (cervids). Neurological disorders are diseases of the brain, spine, and the nerves that connect them. In an effort to create awareness for First Nations, AFN will be developing communication materials to educate First Nations communities about CWD.  Some quick facts on CWD are included on the next page of this bulletin.

Recent scientific evidence suggests that CWD transmission to humans may be possible. To date however, there have been no reported human cases of CWD; further studies are being conducted to better understand potential risks. It is also not yet known whether there are human health effects associated with consuming meat from animals infected with CWD. Therefore, so long as risks to humans are not fully understood, it is recommended that all animals harvested in areas where infection is known to occur be tested prior to consumption, and that any tissue from an infected animal not be used or consumed by humans.

CWD spread northward from the United States into Canada. For several years, cases were contained to the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta, where testing is mandatory in certain areas. In the fall of 2018, a case of CWD was detected in a game farm in Quebec, 15km from the Ontario border, where a total of 11 positive cases were detected. Voluntary testing of animals is available in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, British Columbia, and the Yukon. Information on CWD testing in each region is available through respective provincial and territorial government websites.

Many First Nations communities rely on hunting for food, as well as for social and ceremonial practices. This puts First Nations at increased risk of exposure to CWD. Moreover, the threat that CWD poses to wildlife populations puts the food and nutritional security of First Nations disproportionately at risk. The AFN is working towards developing better resources to inform First Nations on CWD, and to raise awareness to assist in avoiding any potential risk, while ensuring First Nations are included in ongoing efforts to address the issue.

The AFN’s work on CWD is mandated to through Resolution 70/2010, First Nation-controlled Awareness, Training & Surveillance Program for Chronic Wasting Disease, Resolution 13/2017, Chronic Wasting Disease, and Resolution 58/2018: First Nations Response to Chronic Wasting Disease. As set out in these resolutions, the AFN will continue to work with concerned First Nations, organizations, and governments to develop and strengthen First Nation wildlife and human health programs, including those that deal with Chronic Wasting Disease.

First Nation-controlled Awareness, Training and Surveillance Program for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) – 70-2010
Chronic Wasting Disease – 13-2017
Chronic Wasting Disease-FRE – 13-2017
First Nations Response to Chronic Wasting Disease – 18-58
First Nations Response to Chronic Wasting Disease-FRE – 18-58

The AFN will continue to provide additional information on CWD as it becomes available. For more information on CWD please contact:

Benjamin Green-Stacey, [email protected]
Travis Kirkwood, [email protected]


Quick Facts on Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD):

  • Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a fatal nervous system disease known to infect white-tailed deer, mule deer, black-tailed deer, moose,  elk, and caribou.
  • It is recommended that all harvested animals be submitted for testing before consumption, and that any tissue that may have come from a CWD-infected animal not be used or consumed by humans.
  • Animals with CWD may show a number of different symptoms as the disease slowly damages their brain. These include: excessive thirst, salivation and urination, lack of coordination, paralysis, separation from the other animals in the herd and, weight loss.
  • CWD was first detected in Canada on a Saskatchewan elk farm in 1996. Since then the disease has spread across Saskatchewan and Alberta.
  • CWD is transmitted directly through contact between infected animals and indirectly through contact with contaminated surfaces and soil in the environment. CWD is confirmed by testing tissue from the affected animal after it is dead.
  • No treatment is available for animals affected with CWD. No vaccine is available to prevent CWD infection in wildlife or humans.
  • Currently CWD is a reportable disease under the Health of Animals Act and all cases must be reported to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, resulting in immediate investigation.