Expert: Hunters taking Lycoming deer should have them tested for CWD

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The three-year-old doe that recently was found to be Pennsylvania's first case of chronic wasting disease was born on a deer farm near Williamsport, Pa.

But Lycoming County is not within the disease management area set up by the state, and hunters who kill deer there this fall and are concerned about the health of animals they harvest should consider having them tested for CWD, according to a veterinarian in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

"We hope the disease has not crossed over into the wild deer herd in Lycoming County or any other part of the state," said David Wolfgang, extension veterinarian and field studies director in veterinary and biomedical sciences. "Testing deer is the only way we can be sure, and it's the only way hunters can be certain the deer they killed and will eat is not infected by CWD."

The state Game Commission has set up a disease management area that encompasses Adams County -- where the deer with CWD was discovered on a deer farm -- and York County, where it stayed on two deer farms after leaving Lycoming and before coming to Adams. In that zone, during the firearms deer season Nov. 26 to Dec. 8, hunters must take all deer harvested to a check station, where tissue samples will be extracted to be tested for the deer-killing disease.

From now until the end of the statewide archery season that closes Nov. 12, hunters who harvest deer in that 600-square-mile disease management area are strongly encouraged to take their deer to the check station so that they can be tested for CWD.

The Game Commission will cover the costs of CWD tests done on deer taken in the disease management area. But there is no subsidy to defray testing costs in Lycoming County, where there is no check station and no disease management area. And that has Wolfgang, who represents Penn State on the state's Chronic Wasting Disease Task Force, concerned.

"We are betting that the doe was infected by CWD at one of the deer farms in York or Adams counties where it stayed," Wolfgang said. "That seems most likely. But we aren't really sure, and there have been cases in which fawns got CWD from infected mothers. I am hopeful hunters will provide additional surveillance by testing deer they harvest in the greater Lycoming County area."

Hunters who take deer outside the disease management area can get their deer tested for CWD by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture's Veterinary Laboratory, for a fee of $75. Information about submitting a deer for testing can be found on the lab's website, www.padls.org, or by calling by calling 717-787-8808.

"According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no evidence that CWD can be transmitted to humans, but if I harvested a deer near Williamsport, I would want to be sure it was disease free," he said. "I suggest hunters there debone their meat, have the CWD test done, and then process the meat or have it processed after the test comes back negative.

"That's what hunters will be doing in the disease management area around Adams and York counties."

State Agriculture Department officials still are trying to determine whether other captive deer at the four deer farms that housed the CWD-infected animal also were infected, and if CWD might have been passed to wild deer in those areas. The epidemiological investigation is complicated because ag officials are attempting to trace the whereabouts and fates of more than a dozen animals.

Chronic wasting disease attacks the brains of infected deer, elk and moose, producing small lesions that eventually result in death. It is transmitted by direct animal-to-animal contact through saliva, feces and urine

Infected animals may not show signs of the disease in the early stages, which can last for years. However, as the disease progresses, infected animals begin to lose body functions and display abnormal behaviors, such as staggering or failing to respond to threats, such as the approach of humans or predators. Animals may stand with legs spread far apart, carry their head and ears lowered, and drool excessively.

Infected animals appear to be in poor body condition, and some become emaciated. They often are found near water and drink large quantities. However, these symptoms are characteristic of diseases other than CWD, and that is why the diagnosis comes only after death.

The only certified test for CWD requires killing an animal and examining its brainstem.

CWD first was discovered in Colorado captive mule deer in 1967 and since has been detected in 22 states and Canadian provinces, including Pennsylvania's neighboring states of New York, West Virginia and Maryland. Pennsylvania is the 23rd state to find CWD in either a captive or wild deer population and the 13th state to have it only in a captive deer herd.

To keep abreast of the latest news concerning the chronic wasting disease outbreak, Wolfgang recommended that hunters check the Pennsylvania Game Commission website (http://www.pgc.state.pa.us) and the state Department of Agriculture website (http://www.agriculture.state.pa.us). They will be updated as new information becomes available.
 

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Last Updated October 29, 2012