HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania Game Commission officials, joined by veterinarians and laboratory technicians from the Pennsylvania and U.S. departments of Agriculture, will continue their efforts, starting Nov. 29, to sample thousands of hunter-killed deer to determine whether chronic wasting disease (CWD) has come to the Commonwealth.
“For nearly a decade, we have tested hunter-killed deer, and have not found or confirmed any cases of CWD-infected deer in Pennsylvania,” said Carl G. Roe, Game Commission executive director. “We are planning to collect samples from about 4,000 hunter-killed deer to test for CWD in the upcoming firearms deer season. Last year, we tested samples from 3,882 deer. CWD was not detected in any of the samples.”
Game Commission deer aging teams will collect deer heads throughout the state beginning today, Nov. 29 – the second day of the state’s two-week rifle deer season. The heads will be taken to the six Game Commission Region Offices, where samples will be collected for testing.
The CWD tests on these deer samples will be conducted at the University of Pennsylvania’s veterinary diagnostic laboratory at the New Bolton Center in Chester County. Results are expected in 2012.
The Game Commission collected CWD samples (brain tissue and lymph nodes) from elk that were not to be mounted, and requested that taxidermists submit the caped heads from elk provided by hunters seeking to have their trophies mounted. Elk hunters were provided pre-paid mailers for taxidermists to submit the samples. All elk samples will be tested for CWD at the New Bolton Center as well.
The Game Commission also collected lung samples to look for signs of tuberculosis, and blood samples to look for evidence of brucellosis from the 53 elk harvested. Dr. Walter Cottrell, Game Commission wildlife veterinarian, said the agency will release the elk and deer test results as soon as they are available.
The Game Commission, with the assistance of the Pennsylvania and U.S. departments of Agriculture, has conducted tests on more than 350 elk and more than 30,000 deer killed by hunters in Pennsylvania over the past nine years. Since 1998, more than 1,100 deer and elk that had died of unknown illness or were exhibiting abnormal behavior also have been tested. No evidence of CWD has been found in these samples. The Game Commission will continue to collect samples from deer and elk that appear sick or behave abnormally with special emphasis in the area closest to the known positive case in Allegheny County, Maryland.
Even though CWD had not been detected in Pennsylvania, CWD testing of healthy appearing hunter-killed deer or elk is available through the New Bolton Center. Hunters who wish to have their deer tested may do so for a fee by making arrangements with the New Bolton Center Laboratory (610-444-5800).
First observed in 1967, CWD is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) that affects cervids, including all species of deer, elk and moose. It is a progressive and always fatal disease, which scientists believe is caused by an agent capable of transforming normal brain proteins into an abnormal form.
There currently is no practical way to test live animals for CWD, and there is no vaccine to prevent an animal from contracting the disease. There is no cure for animals that become infected. There is no evidence of CWD being transmissible to humans or to other non-cervid livestock under normal conditions.
Deer harboring CWD may not show any symptoms in the disease’s early stages. The usual incubation period for CWD is between 12-24 months. Commonly observed signs of an infected animal include lowered head and ears, uncoordinated movement, rough-hair coat, weight loss, increased thirst, excessive drooling, weakness, and ultimately, death.
Hunters who see deer behaving oddly, appearing to be sick or dying for unknown reasons are urged to contact the nearest Game Commission Region Office. Hunters should only shoot and consume deer that appear to be healthy and behave normally. The Game Commission also recommends that they use rubber or nitrile gloves for field dressing.
The Center for Disease Control has investigated any connection between CWD and the human forms of TSEs and stated “the risk of infection with the CWD agent among hunters is extremely small, if it exists at all” and “it is extremely unlikely that CWD would be a food-borne hazard.”
“We count on hunters, who spend a lot of time in the woods, to be our eyes when they head out to hunt,” Roe said. “With the help of the nearly one million deer hunters who go afield, we can cover a lot of ground.
“If hunters see something unusual or abnormal, they should contact us and provide as much specific information as possible.”
CWD is present in free-ranging or captive wildlife populations in 19 states and two Canadian provinces. The Game Commission has been working with other state agencies to protect the Commonwealth’s wild and captive deer and elk by emphasizing measures designed to prevent its introduction into the state.
In an effort to prevent the introduction of CWD into the Commonwealth, the Game Commission has implemented an executive order prohibiting hunters from importing specific carcass parts from members of the deer family – including mule deer, elk and moose – from 19 states and two Canadian provinces. This importation ban affects hunters heading to: Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland (only from CWD Management Area), Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York (only from Madison and Oneida counties), North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia (only from CWD Containment Area), West Virginia (only from CWD Containment Area), Wisconsin and Wyoming, as well as the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The executive order prohibits hunters from bringing back certain parts from any cervid from the listed states or provinces, whether the animal was taken from the wild or from a captive, high-fence operation. The specific carcass parts that cannot be brought back to Pennsylvania by hunters are the ones where the CWD prions (the causative agent) concentrate in cervids, and they are: the head (including brain, tonsils, eyes and any lymph nodes); spinal cord/backbone; spleen; skull plate with attached antlers, if visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; cape, if visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; upper canine teeth, if root structure or other soft tissue is present; any object or article containing visible brain or spinal cord tissue; unfinished taxidermy mounts; and brain-tanned hides.
“The most notable change this year in the list of states impacted by Pennsylvania’s Parts Ban is the detection of CWD in Maryland,” Roe said. “It is important for those Pennsylvania hunters heading to Maryland to become familiar with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources CWD Management Area, which includes a portion of Allegany County noted as Private Land Code 233 in Maryland’s annual Guide to Hunting and Trapping. This section, which includes Maryland’s Green Ridge State Forest east of Flintstone and Oldtown, is directly south of Pennsylvania’s Bedford and Fulton counties.”
In West Virginia, the CWD Containment Area also has been expanded as the disease has moved outside of Hampshire County. The new CWD Containment Area now includes all of Hampshire County and portions of Hardy and Morgan counties.
For details, hunters should contact the Maryland Department of Natural Resources or the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.
Roe noted that the prohibition does not limit the importation of: meat, without the backbone; cleaned skull plate with attached antlers, if no visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; tanned hide or raw hide with no visible brain or spinal cord tissue present; cape, if no visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; upper canine teeth, if no root structure or other soft tissue is present; and finished taxidermy mounts.
In 2005, Pennsylvania CWD task force members completed the state’s response plan, which outlines ways to prevent CWD from entering our borders and, in the event CWD is found in Pennsylvania, how to detect it and contain it. The task force was comprised of representatives from several state and federal agencies, including the Game Commission, the state departments of Agriculture, Health and Environmental Protection, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well as representatives from stakeholder groups including hunters, deer farmers, deer processors and taxidermists. The plan is updated annually, and the current plan can be viewed on the Game Commission’s website (www.pgc.state.pa.us) by putting your cursor on “Wildlife” in the menu bar at the top of the homepage, then put your cursor on “Wildlife Diseases” from the drop-down menu, and then clicking on “Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).” This page also includes links to tips for taxidermists and meat processors, as well as the CWD Alliance’s website (www.cwd-info.org).
Information on CWD also is published on page 52 of the 2011-12 Pennsylvania Hunting and Trapping Digest, which is presented to each license buyer.
“We know that Pennsylvania hunters are just as concerned about keeping CWD out of Pennsylvania as we are, and we are confident that they will do all they can to protect the Commonwealth’s whitetail and elk populations,” Roe said.