Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD, was first identified in the United States in the late 1960s in Colorado. It slowly deteriorates a deer's brain and central nervous system and is always fatal.

CWD, was reported in more than twenty states in January, including Arkansas and Virginia--two states which border Tennessee. TWRA wildlife specialist Mime Barnes says bringing unprocessed deer from out of state can lead to a CWD outbreak in Tennessee. To keep this from happening, hunters should obey importation laws.

"If people are hunting outside the state in a CWD-positive state and they want to bring back the meat they harvested in another state, they either have to have the meat processed or de-boned before they bring it back in," says Barnes.

If you stay in Tennessee to hunt, you should have your deer checked by TWRA just to be on the safe side.

"We'll be at check stations, or if someone takes the deer to a processor we'll be at that processor many times to collect samples," adds Barnes.

CWD is caused by an abnormal protein called a prion which is spread from one animal to another through bodily fluids. The symptoms---vacant stares, drooling, and lack of fear of people---have led to its nickname Zombie Deer Disease.

Whether you're hunting or just out for a walk, if you see a deer behaving oddly call TWRA.

"Mark that location. Know where it's at and contact your local office," urges Barnes.

Because deer hunting is a multi-million dollar sport in Tennessee, CWD could have a dramatic impact on the economy.

"We'd have to change our regulations, and it could affect the overall enjoyment that people get from deer hunting, says Barnes."

The disease hasn't been reported in humans yet, but TWRA and the CDC urge you not to handle or eat meat from a deer that looks sick, is acting strangely, or is found dead.

Barnes says once CWD is here, it's here to stay.

"It can remain in the soil. Once that disease is here there's no ridding the state of it," explains Barnes.

CWD has also been recently reported in Canada and can affect moose and elk.

Breaking importation laws is a Class-B misdemeanor with a fine of up to $500 and up to six months in jail. If you know some bringing deer into the state illegally, contact TWRA.

MORE INFORMATION | TWRA regional offices