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PA Commission hopes CWD tests continue to show zero presence

From the Pennsylvania Game Commission

-- Game Commission officials, joined by veterinarians and laboratory technicians from the Pennsylvania and U.S. departments of Agriculture, will continue efforts, starting Nov. 30, to sample thousands of hunter-killed deer to assess if chronic wasting disease (CWD) is present in the Commonwealth.  

For nearly a decade, the state has tested hunter-killed deer, and has not found, confirmed or suspected any cases of CWD-infected deer in Pennsylvania.

This year, the state is planning to collect samples from 4,000 hunter-killed deer to test for CWD in the upcoming firearms deer season.  Last year, the state tested samples from more than 4,000 deer, and  CWD was not detected in any sample.

Game Commission deer aging teams will collect deer heads throughout the state beginning 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, telephone (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.

Hunters are asked to be mindful of wildlife health issues, even though there is 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 hunters should follow to ensure their hunt remains safe.  

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.

To learn more about CWD, to go www.pgc.state.pa.us, move the cursor on "Wildlife" in the menu bar at the top of the homepage, then "Wildlife Diseases" from the drop-down menu, and click on "Chronic Wasting Disease." This page also includes links to tips for taxidermists and meat processors, as well as the CWD Alliance's website at www.cwd-info.org.

Information on CWD also is published on page 52 of the 2010-11 Hunting and Trapping Digest which is presented to each license buyer.

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