2012-10-20 / Outdoors

It was inevitable: CWD found in Pennsylvania deer

Game managers and scientists knew it was just a matter of time -- chronic wasting disease has been discovered in Pennsylvania.

Last week, a three-year-old female deer that had been living on an Adams County game farm was found to be infested. CWD affects cervids (hooved animals) that are plant eaters. That includes not only deer, but elk as well.

A lot of money has been invested in elk herd restoration and tourism in Pennsylvania. Any threat is signifificant. But it’s important to keep in mind that no cases of CWD have been confifirmed in deer or elk in the wild since testing started in 1998.

A response plan completed in 2005 was put into action last week.

Immediately, the game farm was closed and quarantined. The other animals there are being euthanized and tested. Two other game farms that had previously housed that animal were also quarantined. A task force was mobilized to plot further strategies.


Free-ranging deer and elk share the same habitat areas in northcentral Pennsylvania. This photo of two deer in the foreground and two cow elk with their calves in the background is not an uncommon sight. Both species could be threatened by CWD. Free-ranging deer and elk share the same habitat areas in northcentral Pennsylvania. This photo of two deer in the foreground and two cow elk with their calves in the background is not an uncommon sight. Both species could be threatened by CWD. CWD infects the brains of infected cervids and is always fatal. There is no known cure, treatment or vaccine. It is transmitted through saliva, feces and urine of infected animals. Symptoms include excessive salivation, loss of appetite, progressive weight loss, excessive thirst and urination, listlessness, teeth grinding, walking in circles, holding the head in a lowered position with drooping ears, and lack of fear of humans and predators.

The disease is not transmissible to humans.

There is an incubation period of as much as four years between exposure to the disease and the development of symptoms. The doe in Adams County may have contracted the disease long ago.

The disease seems impossible to eradicate. A farm in Colorado where CWD was fifirst discovered was cleaned extensively with chlorine, dirt was removed, and the area was treated again with chlorine and then closed for a year. When deer were reintroduced, CWD recurred.

Spread of the disease appears to be most affected by deer farm commerce and use of marketed urine scent products as deer attractants by hunters, since these products are obtained from captive animals on deer farms.

How can we protect our deer and elk herds in the north central region? What kind of new measures or regulations might be enacted? Stay tuned. Surveillance, testing and management of CWD could be an expensive undertaking.

Banning the use of urine-based products as deer attractants by hunters should be considered. Prohibiting the feeding of deer is a likely initiative. Perhaps the elimination of game farms will have to be considered, as well.

Hunters should have their harvested deer tested for CWD and follow safety guidelines when fifield-dressing and butchering animals.

Animals that appear ill or act peculiar should be reported to the Game Commission.

Perhaps readers have other suggestions or speculation on reactions to this inevitable development among our cherished wildlife. Feel free to share your thoughts by email to news@zitomedia.net.

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