Samples taken from the hunter-killed Pennsylvania elk during the 2002 season have all tested negative for chronic wasting disease, according to representatives of the Pennsylvania Game Commission. In addition, results of the brucellosis and bovine tuberculosis tests for the elk were negative.
CWD tests were conducted by the National Veterinary Services Laboratory (NVSL) in Ames, Iowa, while other tests were conducted by Penn State University Animal Diagnostics Laboratory. Test results for Pennsylvania’s elk were delayed as NVSL prioritizes its testing, with preference going to those states where CWD is known to exist.
On March 11, the Game Commission and state Department of Agriculture announced that samples taken from more than 500 hunter-killed Pennsylvania white-tailed deer during the 2002 two-week concurrent rifle deer season all tested negative for CWD.
While the long anticipated test results were good news, the Game Commission will continue to monitor and collect deer and elk that appear sick or behave abnormally. Plans are in place to continue random testing of hunter-killed deer and elk during the 2003-2004 seasons. Hunters who wish to have their deer tested during the 2003-2004 seasons may do so for a fee of $52 by making arrangements with the New Bolton Center Laboratory near Philadelphia (610-444-5800).
“Although CWD has not been found in Pennsylvania, we must continue to be vigilant in our CWD monitoring efforts,” said Vern Ross, Game Commission executive director. “The surveillance information we are gathering is important for the early detection of CWD.
“At this time, we can continue to assure the public that there are no confirmed or suspected cases of CWD-infected deer or elk in Pennsylvania, and we are doing everything we can to ensure that it stays that way.”
Since 1998, the Game Commission, in cooperation with the state Department of Agriculture, has tested more than 300 deer that have died of unknown illness or were exhibiting abnormal behavior. No evidence of CWD has been found in these samples.
First identified in 1967, CWD is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) that affects members of the deer family (cervids), including white-tailed deer and elk. It is a progressive and always fatal disease, which scientists theorize is caused by an unknown agent capable of transforming normal brain proteins into an abnormal form. Once the abnormal form is created, it changes the shape of adjacent proteins and causes holes to form in brain tissue.
There currently is no practical way to test live animals for CWD, no cure for animals that contact the disease and no vaccine to prevent an animal from contracting the disease. Clinical signs include poor posture, lowered head and ears, uncoordinated movement, rough-hair coat, decreased appetite, weight loss, increased thirst, excessive drooling, and, ultimately, death. There is no scientific evidence of CWD being transmitted to humans or to other non-cervid livestock under normal conditions.
Deer or elk harboring CWD may not show any signs of the disease for months to years. Once symptoms appear, death follows within one to three years.
Anyone who sees deer or elk behaving oddly, that appear to be very sick, or that are dying for unknown reasons are urged to contact the nearest Game Commission Region Office. Individuals are not to kill the animal.
To learn more about CWD, visit the agency’s website (www.pgc.state.pa.us) and click on “Wildlife” and then select “Chronic Wasting Disease.”
Currently, the Game Commission, Governor’s Office, state Department of Agriculture, state Department of Health, the state Department of Environmental Protection, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are cooperating to develop a response plan in the event CWD is found in Pennsylvania. The inter-agency task force is focusing on preventing CWD from entering the Commonwealth, ways to ensure early detection should CWD enter the state, and a comprehensive response plan to contain and eradicate CWD should it be found within the state.
“We are very serious about preventing CWD from entering Pennsylvania,” said Bob Boyd, assistant director of the Game Commission Bureau of Wildlife Management. “Scientific modeling suggests that, if nothing is done to contain an outbreak of the disease, CWD could cause a local deer population’s demise within 20 to 25 years in states with high-density deer populations, such as Pennsylvania.
“We also are concerned about the potential environmental contamination that could be caused by CWD, as well as the serious economic impact that would result.”