Chronic wasting disease, believed to have started in Colorado in the 1960s, was first detected in Pennsylvania in a captive deer in Adams County in 2012.
The disease is always fatal and the threat so severe, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has a new position, special assistant for CWD response. Wayne Laroche, who fills that role, talked to more than four dozen hunters, deer farmers and others interested in what’s being done and what they can do during a seminar Tuesday night sponsored by state Sen. John Eichelberger Jr. and Rep. Paul Schemel, Republicans whose districts include Greencastle and Antrim Township.
“In Wyoming, they call them ‘shakers and droolers,’” Laroche said, explaining some of the symptoms, which do not appear until late in the illness — 18 months to two years after the animal is infected — such as extreme weight loss. There are neurological changes such as repetitive walking patterns, wide-based stance, listlessness and losing the fear of humans.
“You can’t tell from looking at them,” Laroche said. “The emaciated ones are in the terminal stages.”
The disease has been found in deer, elk, reindeer and moose.
Among those in the audience was Glenn Dice, who has a 48-acre deer farm in the Chambersburg area and is president of the Pennsylvania Deer Farms Association. There are about 980 deer farms in Pennsylvania and many are a secondary source of income for farm families. Dice grew up on a dairy farm and the deer farm combines his love of the outdoors and his background in agriculture.
The market for deer raised on farms includes breeding, hunting, antlers and urine. The farms have all various security measures to protect their deer. It is mandatory they belong to either the herd certification program and the herd monitoring program.
Mike Hepler traveled from Boiling Springs to attend the seminar. His home is only about 2 miles from the newly expanded CWD Disease Management Area 2. He also hunts in Michaux State Forest, located in the DMA 2, which now includes most of Franklin County. The first and so far only deer in the county with CWD was discovered late last year in captive herd near Pond Bank. It was determined the deer had been brought from Fulton County a few months earlier. The closest wild deer with CWD also was from around McConnellsburg in Fulton County.
*** About the disease ***
CWD is believed to be a abnormal prion (protein disease infected particle) and is spread through bodily fluids like saliva, blood, feces, urine and milk. It is concentrated in the brain, lymph nodes and spinal column.
“CWD rides in the back of a truck,” Laroche said, explaining people haul live animals or carcasses in their trucks.
Deer are in frequent contact with each other through rubbing, licking, eating and nursing. One preventive measure to keep them from having so much contact with one another is to ban the use of feeding and baiting. Also banned is the use of deer urine products and the transportation of high risk parts such as head and spinal column outside the DMA or bringing high risk parts from other areas or states. High risk parts should be placed in garbage bags for disposal in a landfill with a proper liner. Dumpsters also will be at three locations in Franklin County — two in Michaux State Forest and one on state gameland in Hamilton Township for carcasses. Although it is legal to leave them in the field, that is not preferred, according to Brad Myers, the game commission’s wildlife director for the south-central region.
Other steps are targeted removal and research. Sharpshooters can be brought in to kill deer in a specific area around where an animal with CWD has been found.
In Fulton County, Laroche gave the example of 30 deer being killed over a two-day period. Twenty-nine tested disease free and the one positive deer was incinerated. He said much of the meat went to Hunters Sharing the Harvest to help feed the needy. The game commission also is teaming up with Penn State on GPS tracking collars and other research.
The numbers and data are changing constantly, but Laroche believes the spread of the disease can be controlled or even rolled back.
“Other states suggest if you get on top of it, you can blink it out,” according to Laroche. On the other hand, he said it is a dire problem that if left untreated with have a catastrophic outcome.
Hunters are a key piece of the equation, providing surveillance in the woods.
“We need you out there, you’re our first line of defense in the landscape,” said Laroche, adding, “We’re trying to save deer hunting for your children and grandchildren.”
In areas where there higher incidences of CWD have been found — such as Fulton County, the game commission is placing collection boxes for deer heads during rifle season. Hunters should leave the ear tags attached and place the head in a box if they want it tested for CWD and arrangements have been made to get results quickly.
Asked about eating deer meat, Laroche said his comfort level would be OK for Franklin County, but if the deer was from an area where the CWD has been found more often, such as Roaring Spring, he would want it tested first.
“Pennsylvania is certainly trying to be proactive and we need your cooperation,” Schemel said as the seminar drew to a close.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission has a special section on its website — www.pgc.pa.gov — with a host of information as well as frequently asked questions about CWD.