HARRISBURG, Pa. – Chronic wasting disease, or CWD, is one of the biggest wildlife challenges this century, according to experts, and the highly contagious disease is threatening one of Pennsylvania’s most prized natural resources.
Now, the state’s game commission is asking for the public’s help before it spreads even further.
“A neurological disease which impacts members of the cervid family, which is deer, elk, moose, that kind of thing, said Bob Frye, communications coordinator with the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
Frye said 539 deer in the state have tested positive for the disease since the agency started tracking it in 2012. Eighty-six of those cases are from this year.
“Ultimately, in every case, it leads to death,” Frye said. “It’s always [a] fatal disease. There’s no cure, no way to even test the animal to see if it has it until after it has died.”
Experts said the disease develops slowly in the animal’s lymph nodes, spinal tissue, and brain.
“In the case of deer, create holes in their brain, which ends up leading to what we call the wasting part,” Frye explained. “The deer lose weight. They do a lot of excessive drooling. They lose their appetite. They become less wary.”
Those symptoms aren’t always obvious to the naked eye. That’s why the game commission is asking hunters to deposit the head in a marked container if they harvest a deer in one of the state’s three disease management areas.
“We’ll test it for you for free and send you the results,” Frye said. “Then you’ll know before you eat your deer whether it was CWD positive or not.”
Frye said there’s no evidence the disease spreads to humans, but it’s one that’s impacting deer population in 24 states nationwide.
“We’re all in this fight together as people that care about wildlife and hunting,” Frye said. “We just ask them to continue to help us provide those samples. Then we can figure out what we need to do and where we need to do it.”