Chronic wasting disease was first detected in Pennsylvania in 2012 on a captive deer farm in Adams County. In March 2013 the Pennsylvania Game Commission announced that three free-ranging wild deer had been killed and tested positive for CWD during the 2012 gun season, one in Bedford County and two in Blair County.
Because both captive and wild deer had tested positive for CWD, the PGC established two Disease Management Areas to study CWD and its spread. Most recently a Bedford County road-killed buck on I-99 was tested in November as part of an ongoing program to monitor the spread of CWD. A positive result was returned on Dec. 24.
CWD attacks the brain and nervous system of infected cervids (deer, elk, moose). It is ultimately fatal; there is no way to test live animals for CWD and no known treatment or cure. There is no evidence that CWD can be transmitted to humans, though the PGC recommends that infected animals not be eaten.
As part of the Game Commission study of CWD, 1,000 deer have been randomly sampled from each of the disease management zones, and 3,000 additional samples are being collected statewide. Samples come from legally harvested and road-killed deer. According to Bob Boyd, Wildlife Services division chief in the Bureau of Wildlife Management, results from last year's samples should be available in four to five weeks.
"This is a real concern," Boyd said, although only a handful of deer have so far been identified as victims of CWD, "Monitoring the state's deer herd is essential. It's a hard disease to stop because it cannot be detected in live animals, so it's impossible to attack. I suspect we may always be chasing this disease."
On the brighter side, deer hunters have been cooperative with PGC personnel in areas where deer are being sampled. At this point, monitoring and sampling are the only ways to study CWD.
For more information about chronic wasting disease, Disease Management Areas and the sampling program, visit the Game Commission website, www.pgc.state.pa.us, and click on the button labeled "CWD Information."
Biologist, author, and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 8 to 10 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 WVLY-AM (Wheeling) or online at www.wvly.net. Or visit his website www.drshalaway.com or contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.