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PA Helping Researchers Combat Chronic Wasting Disease In Deer

PA Helping Researchers Combat Chronic Wasting Disease In Deer
While Chronic Wasting Disease continues to spread across Pennsylvania, state efforts are boosting national efforts to combat the disease.

Chronic wasting disease or CWD continues to spread in captive and free-roaming deer populations in Pennsylvania. The latest positive cases turned up in the last month.

Seven deer from an infected captive deer herd at Reynoldsville, Pa. Two other white-tailed deer died in April on the Jefferson County farm and tested positive for the disease. This marks the 14th  white-tailed deer in the state to test CWD-positive since 2012.      

IS HE – OR NOT? While incidences of CWD-positive deer is on the rise across Pennsylvania, most wild deer are still healthy – like this buck. Pennsylvania Game Commission photo

"We're doing everything we can to stop its spread," said State Ag Secretary George Greig. "By working with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, state and national deer farmers associations and researchers from across the nation, we can better combat the disease. The more we know, the greater the chance we can eradicate the disease."

The department set out to provide as much information as possible to aid researchers to develop better diagnostic methods. It granted permission for researchers from Kansas State University, in cooperation with state and national deer farming associations, to take samples from the live deer. The samples are being used to study potential live-animal diagnostic tests to detect the disease.

Postmortem samples were sent to USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Veterinary and Wildlife Services and Agricultural Research Services for additional research.

The latest find was an unprecedented level of infection in a captive deer herd, according to Greig. "The department and deer farmers worked together to accommodate the requests of these researchers.

An investigation continues into other deer farms that may have purchased or supplied the Reynoldsville herd with deer. Additional herds may be quarantined.

Chronic Wasting Disease attacks the brains of infected antlered animals such as deer, elk and moose, producing small lesions that eventually result in death. Animals can get the disease through direct contact with saliva, feces and urine from an infected animal.

Symptoms include weight loss, excessive salivation, increased drinking and urination, and abnormal behavior like stumbling, trembling and depression. Infected deer and elk may also allow unusually close approach by humans or natural predators. The disease is fatal and there is no known treatment or vaccine.

Surveillance for the disease has been ongoing in Pennsylvania since 1998. More than 38,000 free-ranging deer and elk have been tested.  Five wild deer have tested positive for the disease since 2013. 

Since 1998, the ag department has coordinated a mandatory surveillance program for more than 23,000 captive deer on 1,100 breeding farms, hobby farms and shooting preserves. Pennsylvania Game Commission collects samples from hunter-harvested deer and elk and those that appear sick or behave abnormally.

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