2013-03-07 / Front Page

Chronic Wasting Disease Found Near Here

Three harvested, wild deer positively identified in Bedford, Blair counties
By Chanin Rotz-Mountz


Pennsylvania’s very first case of chronic wasting disease in the wild white-tailed deer population has been confirmed. In fact, this case doesn’t involve just one deer but a total of three deer harvested during the fall rifle season.

In a Friday, March 1, press release, the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) announced the hunter-killed deer taken in the 2012 general firearms deer season have tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD). Two of the deer were killed in Blair County and the remaining deer was from Bedford County, all located within the PGC’s southcentral region that includes Fulton County.

“These are the first positive cases of CWD in free-ranging deer in Pennsylvania,” confirmed PGC

Executive Director Carl Roe said, “The disease was first documented in early October 2012 by the state Department of Agriculture in a captive deer on an Adams County deer farm.

While the contagious, neurological disease has been present for quite some time in both captive and wild herds in 20 other states as well as in Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada, local officials knew it was only a matter of time until CWD was detected here in the wild deer population.

Barry Leonard, information and education supervisor for the PGC southcentral region, was unable to confirm for the “News” in what townships in Blair and Bedford County the deer were harvested. Leonard did say Friday afternoon the townships were in the process of being confirmed, and the families of the hunters who harvested the deer were being advised of the positive test results.

A leading authority on the disease, the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance states the World Health Organization has reviewed available scientific information and there is no evidence that CWD can be transmitted to humans. However, organizations, such as the Alliance, do recommend caution and common sense be used to avoid exposure.

Recommendations for hunters include wearing latex or rubber gloves during field dressing; boning out meat; avoiding cutting into the deer’s bones, brain or spinal cord; and avoiding the consumption of meat that has tested positive for CWD.

It is possible the families who harvested the affected deer could have consumed a portion or all of the meat from those deer. Leonard said after being advised of the positive results, “It’s their choice to continue consuming the deer or not.” He added he wasn’t aware of any checkups or medical testing being offered to those involved as a result of the delay between the actual harvest date and the positive confirmation results.

A total of 2,945 deer statewide were sampled after Game Commission personnel visited cooperating meat processors. Results have been made available from 1,500 of those deer, and the remaining results are expected to be made available by the state Department of Agriculture in coming weeks.

Any results coming back as suspect positive will be forwarded to a federal laboratory in Iowa for positive confirmation, which was also the process used in these three particular cases as well as in the Game Commission’s 15 years of testing.

Now that positive confirmation has been made in the free-range deer herd, the state or at least Blair and Bedford counties could find themselves subject to special rules and regulations. Changes will likely be made requiring hunters to turn over heads of deer killed on red tag farms in those two counties. In addition, testing will be performed on road-kill deer picked up by wildlife conservation officers.

“Numerous changes could be made within the region or even statewide but that will all be determined as we move forward,” Leonard stated. “There are additional samples to be tested from the past hunting season and that will aid in determining what happens next.”

Public meetings will be held in the Blair-Bedford County region in the coming weeks to share what the PGC knows about these CWD-positive deer and to field any questions the public may have.

Leonard indicated the discovery of CWD in the wild whitetailed deer population could have an impact on hunting license sales, particularly in the area where the disease was located. He said education of the public will be instrumental in allaying any fears about the disease.

“Since it’s not known to cause any issues in humans when the meat is consumed, hunters should not be overly concerned with eating healthy appearing deer. One should never eat a deer that was acting sick or in a strange fashion prior to harvesting,” said Leonard.

Any hunters coming into contact with suspect deer are urged to make note of where the deer was seen and immediately contact the PGC. “Again, we do not advise hunters to attempt to harvest a deer that appears sick,” the information and education supervisor said.

CWD was first identified as a clinical disease in captive mule deer at a research facility in Fort Collins, Colo., in 1967. Twelve years later, it was classified as a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE). Other TSEs include scrape in domestic sheep and mad cow disease.

The agent in CWD is believed to be a prion, an abnormal protein found in the central nervous system and lymphoid tissue and spread through saliva, feces and urine. Mule deer, white-tailed deer, Shiras moose and Rocky Mountain elk are the only four species of the Cervidae family currently known to be susceptible to CWD.

The lesions and spongy deterioration of the animal’s brain result in weight loss, excessive drinking, walking in repetitive courses, subtle head tremors, lowered carrying of head and ears and eventually death. CWD is capable of lying dormant for a year or more.

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