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Chronic wasting disease discovered in Pennsylvania

| Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, 4:18 p.m.

The first case of chronic wasting disease in Pennsylvania has been discovered.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission and Pennsylvania departments of Agriculture and Health announced Thursday that a sick doe was found on a deer farm in Adams County.

That facility — described as a hobby-type operation — has been quarantined, as have two other facilities, one in Lycoming County and another in York. Those “farms” do not have deer currently, but because CWD can persist in soil for “a very long period of time” and the sick doe is known to have been at each during its lifetime, no deer can be moved onto or off of any of the sites, said Craig Shultz, chief veterinarian with the Department of Agriculture.

The remaining deer at the Adams County farm likely will be euthanized and their brains tested to see if any of them also have CWD, Shultz said.

“Depopulation of the facility is really the only choice we have. There is no live animal test,” he said.

Wasting disease, known as CWD, is a fatal ailment that attacks deer, elk and moose. There is no evidence it can be transmitted to humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

Officials were quick to say that efforts are under way to contain the disease.

“Pennsylvania has an aggressive chronic wasting disease surveillance program and a strong response plan,” said Agriculture Secretary George Greig. “Steps are being taken to prevent further spread of this disease to the state's captive and wild deer populations.”

An interagency CWD task force that includes representatives of the departments of Agriculture, Environmental Protection and Health, the Game Commission and the U.S. Department of Agriculture met Thursday. They will “carry out the state's CWD response plan, which includes education and outreach with public meetings and minimizing risk factors through continued surveillance, testing and management,” a news release said.

The Game Commission was planning to hold its own internal meetings Friday, spokesman Jerry Feaser said.

“Our focus is going to be solely on what we're going to do with the areas immediately around these farms. And no decisions have been made,” Feaser said. “Our level of response will be directly related to what we know. So far what we know is this is one deer on one farm.”

CWD was first discovered in Colorado captive mule deer in 1967. It was largely a disease of the western United States. It was not found east of the Mississippi River until 2002, when it showed up in Wisconsin. It's since spread to 23 states and Canadian provinces, with Iowa and Missouri also finding it for the first time in 2012.

It has not been found in any wild deer in Pennsylvania, despite the fact the Game Commission has tested 38,000 whitetails and elk since 1998.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bfrye@tribweb.com or 724-838-5148.

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