HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania Game Commission officials, joined by veterinarians and laboratory technicians from the Pennsylvania and U.S. departments of Agriculture, will continue its efforts, starting Nov. 30, to sample thousands of hunter-killed deer in order to assess whether there are any known cases of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in the Commonwealth.
“For nearly a decade, we have tested hunter-killed deer, and have not found, confirmed or suspected any cases of CWD-infected deer in Pennsylvania,” said Carl G. Roe, Game Commission executive director. “We are planning to collect samples from 4,000 hunter-killed deer to test for CWD in the upcoming firearms deer season. Last year, we tested samples from more than 4,000 deer. CWD was not detected in any of the samples.”
Game Commission deer aging teams will collect deer heads throughout the state beginning Tuesday, Nov. 30 – 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 2011.
The Game Commission collected lung and blood samples from the 41 elk harvested. The Game Commission also collected brain tissue and lymph node samples 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.
Under a contract with Penn State University, samples will be tested for bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis.
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 300 elk and more than 26,000 deer killed by hunters in Pennsylvania over the past seven years. Since 1998, more than 1,000 deer and elk that have 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.
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 identified 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, that appear to be sick, or that are dying for unknown reasons are urged to contact the nearest Game Commission Region Office. Hunters should not kill or consume animals that appear to be sick.
“We count on hunters to be our eyes when they head out to hunt deer,” Roe said. “With the help of the nearly one million deer hunters who go afield, we can cover a lot of ground.
“Hunters should be mindful of wildlife health issues, even more so in recent years. At this point, we have no evidence that CWD is in Pennsylvania, or that it poses health problems for humans.”
Not only should hunters shoot only deer that appear to be healthy and behave normally, but the Game Commission also recommends that they use rubber or nitrile gloves for field dressing. These are simple precautions that hunters should follow to ensure their hunt remains a safe and pleasurable experience.
CWD is present in free-ranging or captive wildlife populations in 18 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 September of 2005, in order to prepare for a possible CWD occurrence, agency representatives of the Pennsylvania CWD task force finalized and signed the state’s response plan, which outlines ways to prevent CWD from entering the state’s borders and, if CWD is in Pennsylvania, how to detect if and work to limit its spread. The task force is comprised of representatives from the Game Commission, the state Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the state Department of Health and the state Department of Environmental Protection. Also, representatives of important stakeholder groups – including hunters, deer and elk farmers, meat processors and taxidermists – helped shape the final draft of the plan. The plan is updated annually and can be viewed on the Game Commission’s website (www.pgc.state.pa.us) by clicking on “Wildlife,” then “Wildlife Diseases,” then “Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)” and then selecting “Pennsylvania CWD Response Plan.”
In December of 2005, recognizing the transmissible nature of the disease, the Game Commission issued an order banning the importation of specific carcass parts from states and Canadian provinces where CWD had been identified in free-ranging cervid populations. In May of 2009, Roe modified that order to include all states where CWD had been detected, whether in a captive or wild setting. This year, to reflect the spread of the disease to three previously unaffected states, the order was updated so now that hunters traveling to the following states must abide by the importation restrictions: Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York (only from CWD containment area), North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia (only from CWD containment area), West Virginia (only from Hampshire County), Wisconsin and Wyoming; as well as the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Specific carcass parts prohibited from being imported into Pennsylvania by hunters are: head (including brain, tonsils, eyes and lymph nodes); spinal cord/backbone; spleen; skull plate with attached antlers, if visible brain or spinal cord material is present; cape, if visible brain or spinal cord material is present; upper canine teeth, if root structure or other soft material is present; any object or article containing visible brain or spinal cord material; and brain-tanned hides.
The order does not limit the importation of the following animal parts originating from any cervid in the quarantined states, provinces or area: meat, without the backbone; skull plate with attached antlers, if no visible brain or spinal cord material is present; tanned hide or raw hide with no visible brain or spinal cord material present; cape, if no visible brain or spinal cord material is present; upper canine teeth, if no root structure or other soft material is present; and taxidermy mounts.
To learn more about CWD, to go the Game Commission’s Web site put 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 click on “Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).” This page also includes links to tips for taxidermists and meat processors, as well as the CWD Alliance’s Web site.
Information on CWD also is published on page 52 of the 2010-11 Pennsylvania Hunting and Trapping Digest, which is presented to each license buyer.