Fatal disease detected in wild white-tailed deer in Pennsylvania

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A fatal wildlife disease has been detected for the first time in wild populations of white-tailed deer in Pennsylvania.

Today the Pennsylvania Game Commission confirmed that three deer killed by hunters during the 2012 rifle deer season in Blair and Bedford counties tested positive for the neurological disorder, chronic wasting disease. In October 2012, a farm-raised penned deer in Adams County tested positive in the state's first confirmed case of chronic wasting disease.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has said there is no evidence chronic wasting disease can be transmitted to humans or household pets. The state has not issued consumption advisories for hunter-shot venison.

Chronic wasting disease is progressive and always fatal in deer, elk and moose, affecting the infected animal's brain and nervous system. It is believed to occur when normal brain proteins are converted by an unknown agent to an abnormal form. It is spread through the direct transfer of body fluids and through contaminated soil. There is no known treatment.

The presence of chrnoic wasting disease was detected during random sampling of two hunter-killed deer in Bedford County and one in Blair County.

"The three CWD-positives were part of 2,945 deer sampled for the disease statewide," said Game Commission executive director Carl Roe, in a written statement. "To date, we have received test results from 1,500 samples, including these three positive samples. Results from the remaining samples should be available in the next few weeks."

Agency spokesman Joe Neville said deer processing centers in south central Pennsylvania were prioritized for random sampling because wasting disease had been previously confirmed in nearby counties of Maryland and West Virginia. He said the disease is not expected to be found in samples from northern or western counties.

"We'll never get rid of it now that it's here, but we can slow its spread," said Mr. Neville.

That could be accomplished through special hunting regulations in targeted areas, he said. Backyard wildlife watchers can help by not feeding deer and structuring bird feeders so that that bodily fluids including saliva can not be spread among deer.

More information about chronic wasting disease is available at the Game Commission's website, www.pgc.state.pa.us.

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John Hayes: jhayes@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1991.


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