CWD surveillance detects diseased deer

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Pennsylvania Game Commission, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture-Wildlife Services (USDA-WS) recently combined on an effort to further test wild deer for chronic wasting disease (CWD) near a site that recently sold a captive deer that, at its new location, later was determined to be CWD-positive.

Several neighboring landowners in Fulton County gave permission for USDA-WS biologists, with extensive expertise in targeted deer removal, to take 30 wild deer for CWD testing.

The Game Commission oversaw the effort and worked jointly with PDA and USDA-WS to collect biological samples. Deer were taken on March 22 and 23, and samples were submitted to the PDA Veterinary Services Laboratory for testing.

CWD was not detected in 29 deer. The meat from those deer was provided to families in need. However, CWD was detected in one deer, and results from follow-up tests on this deer came back Wednesday, confirming the deer was CWD positive.

Wayne Laroche, director of the Game Commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Management, said the positive test from this sample size increases concern that more CWD-positive deer might be present in the immediate area where the deer was taken. Based on this evidence, the Game Commission will increase CWD sampling of road-killed and hunter-harvested deer in this area to learn more about the magnitude and distribution of the disease. The agency will work with landowners and hunters in this area to ensure that enough deer are tested.

No other shooting initiatives to collect additional samples for CWD testing are planned at this time. The Game Commission actively is developing a CWD research-and-control program. For any disease-control program to be effective, some deer will have to be killed. The key will be finding ways to “surgically remove” pockets of infected deer rather than trying to drastically decrease deer numbers.

Laroche said the recent initiative demonstrated concern within the community and the willingness of the residents to cooperate with efforts to solve this problem.

CWD is a fatal disease that affects deer and elk. The disease is spread through direct deer-to-deer contact and ingestion of CWD prions from contaminated environments. The CWD prion mostly is concentrated in the brain, spinal cord and nervous tissue, but is present throughout an infected deer’s body including its bodily fluids. It remains infectious in soil for many years.

There is no practical method to test living deer for CWD.

At present, CWD has been detected among wild deer in south-central Pennsylvania, as well as deer at several captive cervid facilities around the state.

As the number of free-ranging deer infected with CWD increases, the potential for CWD to spread throughout the Commonwealth rises. Ultimately, this will be detrimental to deer populations everywhere and will affect the ability of Pennsylvanians to enjoy deer viewing and hunting in the future if the disease goes unchecked.

Development and implementation of effective control measures now, rather than later, will provide the Game Commission with the best opportunity to slow, and possibly contain, the spread of CWD in Pennsylvania.

Each year, samples from more than 5,500 hunter-harvested deer, road-killed deer and any deer exhibiting signs of sickness are tested to provide statewide surveillance for CWD.

Twenty-five new CWD cases were found in free-ranging deer during 2016, bringing the total number of cases in wild, free-ranging Pennsylvania deer to 47, all since 2012.

Testing of hunter-harvested deer from 2016 is not complete, so additional positives might turn up. CWD-positive deer also were detected in recent months at captive deer facilities in Franklin and Bedford counties.

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