Committee Hears Efforts to Control CWD in PA

HARRISBURG – Efforts to control the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in Pennsylvania’s deer population was the subject of an informational meeting of the House Game and Fisheries Committee, chaired by Rep. Martin Causer (R-Turtlepoint), on Thursday.

“Since it was first discovered on a captive deer farm two years ago in Adams County, additional cases of Chronic Wasting Disease have been identified in both free-ranging deer and other captive deer farms in the state,” said Causer. “Given the potentially devastating impact the disease could have on the population of deer and other cervids in Pennsylvania, it is important for members and the public to know what is being done to help control the disease.”

Because the disease is affecting both captive and free-ranging deer, both the state Department of Agriculture and the Pennsylvania Game Commission are involved in efforts to combat CWD. Representatives of both agencies appeared before the committee to discuss the nature of the disease, their efforts to control it and the difficulties it presents.

“This disease-causing organism has no DNA, so it’s not like bacteria, not like a virus, and that presents some real unique challenges in control,” said Dr. Craig Schultz, director, Bureau of Animal Health and Diagnostic Services and state veterinarian in the Department of Agriculture.

He noted that there is no treatment for a deer once it is infected and no vaccine to prevent infection. There is no practical means of testing soil for disease-causing prions and no accurate live-animal test to identify an infected animal. CWD is transmissible by relatively casual means, which also makes it difficult to prevent the spread of the disease.

Dr. Justin Brown, wildlife veterinarian with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, pointed to the stability of prions in the environment as another challenge, noting they can remain infective for years in the soil. He also discussed the importance of properly disposing of high-risk parts – those parts of the deer where prions accumulate, such as the brain, spinal cord, lymph nodes and spleen.

To help prevent the spread of the disease, the PGC has placed a ban on the importation of high-risk parts into Pennsylvania from states with CWD and a ban on the transportation of high-risk parts out of the disease management area. To further control the spread and prevalence of CWD, the commission has placed a ban on feeding wild deer, on the use of urine-based attractants and on rehabilitation of cervids in the disease management area. They are also working to increase the antlerless harvest in areas with CWD in wild deer.

Both men said efforts to control the disease are further complicated by the fact that it can take 18-24 months, and sometimes more, for an infected animal to begin showing clinical signs of the disease. Research has also shown infected deer may be shedding prions for months prior to showing any signs of the disease.

“It was interesting to learn what these two state agencies are doing with regard to CWD, but what was most surprising to me is how limited the information about the disease really is, even though it has now been found in 24 states,” Causer said. “Everyone agreed more research is needed to understand the cause of the disease, how to test for it, and how to deal with it.”

In addition to the effects on the deer population itself, Brown of the Game Commission also pointed to the potential impact the disease may have on the Commonwealth’s hunting traditions. In states where CWD has existed for some time, studies have shown hunter participation declines noticeably as the prevalence of CWD increases. Considering that deer hunters spend nearly $1 billion on hunting and related activities in Pennsylvania, it could have a significant impact on the state’s economy.

Additional information about Chronic Wasting Disease is available at www.agriculture.state.pa.us and www.pgc.state.pa.us. To watch video of the committee meeting, visit www.RepCauser.com.

Posted by on Nov 15 2014. Filed under Local News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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