The good news from the Pennsylvania Game Commission is that Chronic Wasting Disease was not detected in any samples collected from white-tailed deer harvested during the 2013-2014 deer hunting seasons.
Troubling news is that CWD persists in Pennsylvania. Two road-killed deer in Bedford County tested positive for the disease last fall. Another infected individual was found at a captive deer farm in Jefferson County -- that facility and the Northampton County deer farm where the deer was born have been placed under quarantine. An infected free-ranging deer was detected just south of the Pennsylvania border in Maryland, and a new disease containment zone is planned for Central Pennsylvania.
Deer are the state's most economically valuable wildlife species, and are vital to the habitats of many other species. The PGC has established Disease Management Areas (DMA) to monitor the occurrence and spread of the disease. In response to these new cases, the DMA program will expand in 2014-2015.
CWD was discovered in 1967, but is relatively new to Pennsylvania. It is spread from individual to individual by direct and indirect contact. It attacks and destroys brain cells and is always fatal. The cause is unknown, there is no practical way to test live animals for the disease, and there is no vaccine.
The Game Commission takes this threat seriously. Since 1998 it has gathered and submitted more than 48,000 samples from wild deer and elk for testing. To date, only five wild deer have tested positive.
DMA 1 (600 square miles) was established in 2011 in York and Adams counties after an infected deer was detected at a captive deer facility there. DMA 2 (1,600 square miles) was established in 2013 after three infected deer were killed by hunters, and was enlarged to include parts of Blair, Bedford, Huntington, Cambria and Fulton counties. A third DMA is planned for Jefferson County.
"There is no scientific evidence that CWD has or can spread to humans, either through contact with infected animals or by eating the meat of infected animals," reports the Game Commission on its website. However, people are advised not to eat meat from animals infected with CWD.
For more information about the commission's CWD Response Plan and descriptions of the boundaries of the DMAs, see the PGC website at www.pgc.state.pa.us.
Biologist, author, and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 8-10 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 WVLY-AM (Wheeling) and online at www.wvly.net. He can be reached at www.drshalaway.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, W.Va., 26033.