The Pennsylvania Game Commission recently announced that a whitetail deer in the state was found positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD), the first time the disease has been reported in the state since 2012. The deer, which was retreieved after being struck by a vehicle in November, was revealed to carry the disease on December 24.

CWD is an infectious disease that can be transmitted among deer, elk, and moose. The disease attacks the brain of adult animals and is always fatal. As of yet, there is no known cure or method to test live animals. Wildlife agencies consider CWD to be a major threat to the health of cervid populations.

“It’s not as if we hope to find CWD positives as we continue our ongoing surveillance,” Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe said in a statement. “But the fact is that each test result that comes back – positive or negative – gives us a clearer picture of how prevalent the disease is, and monitoring for CWD is an important part of our efforts to manage its spread.”

The disease was first discovered in Pennsylvania on a captive facility in 2012. Since then, three more CWD-positive deer were taken by hunters and subsequently tested by the Game Commission. The state took measures to prevent the spread of CWD and to more closely survey the state’s deer population. Wildlife officials say they do not expect this new discovery to significantly impact hunters, as special rules already apply for regions with known CWD outbreaks.

“That’s a point that shouldn’t be lost,” Roe said. “While we will continue to monitor for CWD and keep a watchful eye on test results, the simple fact CWD has been detected in Pennsylvania shouldn’t keep anybody from enjoying deer hunting, or venison from healthy deer, as they always have.”

To help contain the disease, the Game Commission advises hunters to:

  • Do not shoot, handle, or consume an animal that appears sick.
  • Wear rubber or nitrile gloves when field dressing.
  • Bone out the meat from your animal.
  • Minimize the handling of brain and spinal tissues.
  • Wash hands and instruments after field dressing.
  • Ask your deer processor to process your meat individually, without meat from other animals, or process your own meat.
  • Have your animal processed in the area of the state where it was harvested so high risk body parts can be properly disposed of. It is illegal to bring these parts into the state from areas listed in the PGC Parts ban, or to take them out of any Pennsylvania DMA.
  • Transport out of any Pennsylvania DMA, or bring back to Pennsylvania only low-risk materials: 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 finished taxidermy mounts. If you plan to hunt in CWD positive areas, and want to avoid transporting parts that are banned, take a moment to view this video.
  • Don’t consume high-risk body parts. Normal field-dressing, coupled with boning out a carcass, will remove most, if not all, of these body parts. Cutting away all fatty tissue will remove remaining lymph nodes.
  • Have your animal tested, and do not consume meat from any animal that tests positive for the disease.

Image courtesy Joe Kosack/Pennsylvania Game Commission

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