More Cases of Chronic Wasting Disease in Pa.

  • Six additional cases of Chronic Wasting Disease have been found in Pennsylvania deer. The neurological disease is always fatal. Photo: Brian Henderson

May 15, 2015

Six new cases of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) have been found in deer in Pennsylvania. That brings the total of infected free-ranging deer to 11 in the state, and there have been a number of other cases on deer farms since 2012. CWD is a fatal neurological disease that impacts deer and elk populations, and is likened to Mad Cow Disease in cattle. 

Tom Fazi,  Information and Education Supervisor for the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Southwest region, says these latest cases were deer killed on highways in Bedford and Blair Counties. They were found in Disease Management Area 2, an area already designated and monitored by the Game Commission for controlling the spread of the disease. The management area is based on a 10 mile radius around the location where each infected deer is found.

"We like it to a bonfire, and sparks flying from the bonfire. All we can do is try to minimize those sparks," he says.

As a result of the six news cases, Disease Management Area 2 is being expanded to include parts of Somerset and Cambria Counties.

Fazi says so far the disease is not spreading quickly.

The Game Commission hopes to keep it that way is by restricting hunters from taking high risk parts—like the head or spinal tissue of the deer—outside of disease management areas. Feeding deer in these areas is also prohibited.

Chronic Wasting Disease is caused by abnormal, infectious protein particles called prions. The disease can be transmitted directly from animal to animal, or indirectly through food or soil that’s been contaminated by bodily fluids from infected animals. The prions can last for years in the environment.

The disease is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, and causes holes within the brain tissue of infected deer, similar to a sponge. Animals infected with CWD appear emaciated, will drool and show signs of restlessness and confusion.

Fazi says the disease has presented logistical problems for his agency.

“The first year we had a different response, because it was new. We had mandatory check stations where every harvested deer had to be taken.”

He says the Game Commission doesn’t have the manpower or budget to make that kind of monitoring sustainable. But, he says, at the same time, the agency wants to do a diligent job of testing and sampling for infected animals where and when they can.

“It’s not an easy to solve problem, and we’re going to be facing it for a long time.”